©2023 By Raquel Vasquez
What is it like dealing with gangsters and thugs? There are thugs in suits, and there are thugs with motorcycles. The major differences are that some are educated and savvy, dressed better than others, and commit their crimes above ground in front of God and everyone else. Then there is the subculture of organized crime. There is no school on how to deal with thugs, I could not find any “business for bruiser’s” class so I had to go with my instincts. It was the early 2000’s, notorious biker gangs were at “war” and it was headline news. The first time I spoke with a clearly intelligent criminal was an experience that will never forget. You don’t expect these guys to be smart.
Sometimes, supercool ideas come out of necessity. I didn’t have an office yet, so I asked my clients to meet me at bars. The bar would depend on the client. I had a bar type for each client type. Seedy bars, dive bars, hotel bars, Sunset Strip bars. My clients loved it. It was a pleasant exchange and I would always buy my client a drink. Some macho men couldn’t accept that and would insist on buying me one. I would gladly oblige with my pinky up. But when it came to clients who were members of big motorcycle clubs with money, they had their own bars. They call them clubhouses and I would have to go to them to pick up my payment and do the necessary paperwork.
There were stories about murders and federal indictments published almost daily. I had read these articles and was driving myself to a gang meeting that was invitation only. The date and the time had been set a week prior. I didn’t get the actual address until one hour before our meeting time.
Going in, I had to keep in mind the male gangster profile. He probably didn’t have the best childhood, maybe he had an addiction, and one thing he had for sure was a giant ego. Not an easy type to deal with. I found it fascinating that a group of men who preferred the company of men would hire a female bail agent. But they did. I know my appearance and demeanor helped, but don’t think I wasn’t tested throughout the years.
Sometimes the clubhouse would be in a business park, with one entrance in and one entrance out. Most of the outlaw gangs had a militaristic structure. When they were in wartime they would recruit hundreds of soldiers. When I pulled up to a given location there would be two armed guards who had to check me out first. The two “soldiers” guarding a gated entry to the clubhouse always carried guns. In the sweltering heat of California summers these soldiers would be wearing oversized Dickies coats. Another soldier would show me where to park. I would then be escorted to the final location. All outlaw gangs had some version of this scenario. Some were meant to impress and some were less extravagant. I was always formally introduced and my history and connection with the organization detailed — that may be a friend, a high school acquaintance, whatever. The leaders of gangs were always relatively well spoken. I remember dealing with men who looked scary and positively off the grid of society. But then I noticed a level of intelligence. This was my first real exposure to the criminal mind and how it works. It’s one thing to watch people ruin their lives haphazardly with drugs and alcohol, it was another to have conversations with an intellectual criminal.
There was so much testosterone in these clubhouses that I could barely breathe. The postures, the abundance of facial hair, and the extent of silver jewelry was astounding. Each one wore giant skull rings on each finger of both hands, and extra-large belt buckles with their insignia inlaid in silver shaped designs. Custom wallet chains hung from their belts to their knees, and there was leather, lots of leather. The rattle that all of this gear created was quite sensational. These were not everyday men. They were modern-day pirates in their own underground world.
Gangs would assign me to their specific chapters so that I could be fast and ready for them on the weekends. If you wear a gang logo on your back and roll around town fifteen deep, the cops shaking you down or following you is a sign of importance and goes with the territory. The weekly “show our presence” ritual on Saturday nights gave the cops reason to follow them until they found a reason to arrest somebody. Meeting at the Rainbow on the Sunset Strip was very convenient, and oh how they loved that, a wad of rolled up cash exchanged with the tattooed lady in heels. They loved it. I loved it. It was magic.
The meetings were planned and had a purpose. All “Christian” names and dates of birth were written down for me so I could search for them across multiple counties. The floor was open for questions. Scenarios were discussed and I tried to explain that jail isn’t like a hotel. Yes, it’s true, they are different. I’ve had clients ask if they could leave messages for inmates, ask if inmates could call them back, and if the jailer could let us know when an inmate is being released. Minutes were taken during these meetings by the way.
Throughout these years I witnessed strange things I wish I could erase from my mind. I would drive over an hour to clubhouses spread across California. Each one was just as strange in a tough guy way. All clubhouses had the same amenities. A bar, a pool table, an outdoor area for smoking, TV monitors and lounge areas. Some were glamorous with elaborate mural paintings, multiple game tables, sound systems and valet parking, and some were run down and straight out of the film Deliverance.
Did strange things happen at these places? I’ll give you a few examples. A clubhouse is a twenty-four-hour party with no rules. I would arrive at any given hour to receive payment. The earlier it was in the morning, the stranger things got. I remember meeting “the guy in charge.” His name was Fat Dog. The name blew me away and of course I expected a giant fat guy. Who I met was a thirty-six-year-old attractive man with a fresh short haircut who doubled as a football coach outside of his motorcycle gang. He had a block of ice the size of a shoe box in one hand and a motorcycle battery in the other. He saw no need to put them down while talking to me. Nope, he just held on to both as I watched the ice melt to form a circle around his thumb where he was holding it. He was as high as a kite and who knows how many days he had been up without sleep. This was not normal! I had to get out of there! I would get my money, not take the time to count it, and split.
I often joked that I should have called my business Snow White’s Bail Bonds because every one of my clients went by a moniker. I was instructed never to use their real names and names were secretly filled out on my application and kept out of sight of other members. I was discussing thousands of dollars and people’s freedom being on the line to men with names like “Lazy,” “Sleepy,” “Grumpy,” and “PF.”
“’PF,’ what the hell does that stand for?” I regretted asking. Pig Fucker. they said. “He gets lonely.”
Things weren’t only quirky and weird at these clubhouses. At one clubhouse I remember the room got very quiet very quickly. As I turned my head to look past the bar and pool tables I saw a bloody, battered, and crying woman come stumbling through the middle of the room. She made no eye contact with anyone. Nobody said a word. Nobody offered her any help. Slowly came her man, following behind her.
The women who hung around these clubs were just as strange. Picked up at strip clubs, bars and truck stops, the women in their lives were subservient and old fashioned in their behavior. It reminded me of something my father told me.
“Treat a man like a king and he starts to believe he is one.”
What I saw was that saying in reality. Not only did these men live in a subculture with no bank accounts or driver’s licenses with soldiers at their beck and call, but the women in their lives treated them like kings. This must do something to the psyche.
The outlaw and the gang member now had some capital. Young men who didn’t want to get pulled over for infractions simply hired Town Cars with drivers. This was impressive and smart. Doing deals and signing contracts in Town Cars that came to me wherever I happened to be was perfect! My friends and family would understand if I had to step away for business, whether it be Christmas Eve or someone’s birthday. Having a Town Car pull up to meet you is acceptable, having a dozen Harley Davidsons with men wearing a bullseye outlaw insignia on their backs is not.
All members’ wives, siblings and employers were told that when and if any arrests happen, to let the organization take care of it. This saved all parties involved a million headaches. I learned that the lifestyle of a gangster is a small world and removed from reality. The members only socialize with other members (who they don’t trust) and watch and gossip about each other while planning their next event. This is a cycle. It’s not that different from what you might see watching an episode of The Sopranos. The only difference is millions of dollars.
In the years to come, thugs with no credit changed. They got smart in their competition with the Hells Angels. Jobs and careers were no longer shunned for outlaws. The motorcycles went from “rat bikes” to brand new bikes, the unemployed booze-breath bikers became men with union jobs wearing watches, and the “hang around” women went from toothless to tempting. This was great for my business for many years and led to many stories yet to be told.
Raquel Vasquez is an entrepreneur and freelance writer from Los Angeles with a background in dance and photography. Born in Las Vegas, Raquel is the progeny of entertainment industry parents and spent her early years traveling. Raquel has been a columnist for LA Canvas magazine and other outlets covering boxing, music, art and pop culture. She is currently in college furthering her education, owns two businesses and is working on her second book.
(This week, Raquel is featured in NY Fights magazine – and so is Legsville!)