Hells Angels…Or Just Angels?

By Beacon Staff

This weekend, as I drove into the southern end of Kalispell, I heard the distinctive sound of rumbling motorcycle pipes behind me. The sight in my rearview mirror was enough to make even the most macho of men a little nervous: Bikers, riding two abreast and eight deep, clad in black leather, bandanas and one particularly intimidating skull mask, were bearing down fast on my little hatchback. From the looks of their heavily tattooed arms and necks, bulging biceps and piercings, these men probably weren’t your middle-aged dad gang playing tough with “the boys.”

As they passed, though, I smiled and waved to the leader and in return received a series of thumbs-up’s and toothy grins (and a few gummy ones, too). See, I learned as a teenager schlepping tables at a downtown Perkins in Billings, that kindness goes a long way with these folks.

It’s the same lesson two young Missoula boys capitalized on this weekend. As it turns out, their “Welcome Hells Angels” sign was all it took to draw more than a few of the renowned bikers – in town for the motorcycle club’s USA Run through the Garden City – to their Kool-Aid stand. The last time the club was in town, the boys made nearly $200 – after subtracting overhead costs for sugar, ice and drink packets – in less than two hours. The photos and video on the paper’s Web site show a side far different from the motorcycle gang’s notorious reputation as troublemakers.

In fact, for the most part, few incidents were reported over the weekend as the Hells Angels acted like, well, angels. That’s not to say the group probably hasn’t done plenty to deserve their rough reputation. A quick Google news search brings up plenty of headlines suggesting it’s well earned.

It’s just that my experience has always been more Kool-Aid than controversy. Every summer, as motorcyclists – Hells Angels and dad-groups alike – rolled through Billings heading to Sturgis, I learned to seek out their tables in the restaurant. I was regaled with interesting stories, always treated with respect and, like the Missoula boys, was the recipient of more-than generous tips.

One biker, after finding out I was home for the summer from college, left me a $50 bill and a note wishing me luck in my studies. “A kind smile will always be rewarded,” it read.