Canada - Former president of outlaw gang chronicles early days when bikers were bad, not villainous
BOLTON–"You don't look like a bad-guy biker."
In certain circles, saying that could get you punched out.
Don Norris smiles. "Thank you," he says.
With his white hair, gentle demeanour and blue, knitted slippers, he doesn't look like a one-percenter.
Except for the "Department of Homeland Security" T-shirt, which shows a bunch of long-haired motorcyclists.
And the tattoo: a grinning devil's head and the name Satan's Choice.
Norris was an outlaw, all right. President of the Choice back in the early '60s.
Who else in this comfortable sub-division off Hwy. 50 could sit in his living room and jog his memory with, "That would be the night the Vagabonds beat the s - - - outta me?"
Satan's Choice was front and centre in the famous "patch-over" of 2000-01 when members of several Ontario clubs became Hells Angels. Norris was long gone by then. But he's still close to a number of guys who live the outlaw life.
"Friends are friends," he says. "They're good people."
If he more resembles a retired scoutmaster, well, he's been that, too. And a karate instructor. He may be 67 but you wouldn't want to cross him even now.
"I'm not a tough guy any more," he says. "I've had heart problems and diabetes. I would avoid a fight. But, still, some things are ingrained."
He most wants to be thought of as a writer, author of the self-published memoir Riding With Attitude.
You can order it from him (email email@example.com) for $22.50 plus $2.50 postage, or from Chapters/Indigo. If you see Norris at a rally, 20 bucks and it's yours. This weekend, he'll be selling copies at his own booth at the motorcycle Supershow at the International Centre.
Norris is retired from the trucking industry and lives with his wife, Carolyn, and a cat named Riggs, after the Mel Gibson character in Lethal Weapon.
He has four children, who are "fascinated by the biker stuff," and six grandchildren. He no longer carries a "gator-skinner" knife with a 30-centimetre blade, or rides with three sticks of dynamite wrapped up in his bedroll – "another of my quirks."
It was through one of his son's scouting activities that he became a troop leader. "I always get a kick out of the people who say, `I can't believe you were in Satan's Choice,' " says Carolyn. "Or, `I can't believe you were a scoutmaster.' "
Riding With Attitude is sometimes lurid. Norris writes of losing his virginity "with Lulu in the Golden Hawks' clubhouse ... while the guys sat around drinking and watching."
He opens a window into a time when outlaw bikers were hellraisers who hadn't yet been tarred with the "organized crime" brush. That's a label that irks him mightily.
As a teenager in Scarborough, Norris earned 35 cents an hour "as a carhop at a drive-in restaurant – no roller skates. I'd saved 100 bucks and I knew some fellers who belonged to the Saddle Tramps club. Through them, I bought a '52 Triumph."
(Biker clubs then weren't mandating that their members ride Harleys.)
"I hooked up with Satan's Choice and a year later I became president. That would be 1959 or '60. There was only one chapter back then, about 45 members. We hung out at Aida's restaurant at Kingston Rd. and St. Clair Ave. There were no initiation rituals. You just needed a motorcycle and $3 for the patch."
What was it like being in Satan's Choice?
"Party, party, party," Norris recalls with a grin. "And some ongoing rivalry with other clubs. The Black Diamond Riders tended to try to wipe out other clubs. I was beaten up a few times."
And beat up people himself?
"Of course. It was all challenges. You can't reject a challenge.
"We were treated with respect by people, given a wide berth wherever we went. They saw your patch and they stepped aside."
The Choice disbanded temporarily in 1963 but Norris joined the Swamphawks and Golden Hawk Riders. "And I was always very friendly with the Para-Dice Riders."
He spent most weekends at Bernie Guindon's house. It was Guindon, co-founder of the Phantom Riders, who in 1965 masterminded an amalgamation of his club, the Canadian Lancers, the Throttle Twisters and the Wild Ones.
Satan's Choice was reborn.
The four club presidents visited Norris to see what he thought of the idea.
"I could hardly contain my enthusiasm," he writes. "I loaned them my old crest as a sample and told them where they could be made. For aiding in the new beginning, I was presented with a new set of colours."
But Norris was a family man by then and never went back to the Choice.
"Do I miss it?" he says. "Not really. I'm enjoying saner times. Would I live in that culture again? Yes, absolutely."
He owns a 1997 Honda Gold Wing that he's ridden all over the continent.
"Most of my neighbours have no idea about any of the biker stuff," he says. "They know I ride. Maybe that's what keeps them away!"
His wife had no idea either when they met "or I wouldn't have touched him with a 10-foot pole!"
Norris looks at her in mock disbelief. "I never could talk her into getting a `Property of Satan's Choice' tattoo."
He backs his Gold Wing out into the rain for pictures.
"Where do you want me?" he asks. "By this tree?"
Sure. Unless you'd like to ride around the block and look as if you're terrorizing the neighbourhood.
His wife laughs. "He's the quietest guy on the street."
In certain circles, saying that could get you punched out.
Norris smiles. "Thank you," he says.
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