Think 'Sons of Anarchy' has the biker beat covered? A reality show spotlights San Diego's underbelly
Nobody can question San Diego's climate. With 201 days above 70 degrees each year, America's Finest City (it's official nickname) hosts more than 32 million visitors who annually pump an estimated eight billion dollars into the regional economy. And the locals have it good, too: S.D. has recently been named America's second best city to work, its ninth best place to buy a house and, for the thirsty, the third best beer town in America. But it's not all sunshine and smiles in SoCal. Where there's wealth, there's an underbelly. And that's precisely what veteran reality TV producer Jason Hervey (Scott Baio Is 45. . . And Single) identified two years ago, setting in motion one of the more raw, emotional and at times disturbing pieces of documentary programming on the airwaves today.
"As entertaining as it is, Sons of Anarchy only tells part of the biker's story," says Hervey, who many will recognize from his turn as Wayne Arnold on The Wonder Years (and who has since developed 17 television shows and eight TV movies in the intervening two decades). "What we're witnessing and capturing on the street – and what you're seeing on TV – is a brotherhood."
Enter the outlaws of The Devils Ride. When Season Three kicks off next Monday at 10 p.m., viewers will witness the Laffing Devils and Sinister Mob Sindicate, two enemy clubs both battling for the right to dominate the turf they call home. But it hasn't always been a Hatfields and McCoys-style conflict. Both clicks were initially part of the same collective. Then the Devils exiled a hothead named Bubba who formed a rival pack. Perhaps The Devils Ride is more akin to the Crips and Bloods, whose battlelines were drawn 120 miles north in Los Angeles (the Bloods having infamously split from the Crips three years after their founding in 1969, a rift profiled in Stacey Peralta's engrossing 2008 documentary Crips and Bloods: Made in America).
"These guys have a burning passion for their bikes, their turf and their brothers, which all stem from their careers in the military," adds Hervey. "That's where the rigidity comes from – many of these guys were Marines who served multiple tours in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere." One such veteran is Rockem, a professional pilot, master bike builder and Sin Mobber for life. "Where the modern motorcycle club stems from is the fact that we don't even know our own neighbors anymore," he says, trying his very best to dispell the modern stereotype of biker as outlaw (local and national authorities including the FBI broadly classify both groups as violent gangs). "But what this is – what it really has always been about," stresses Rockem, "is an escape."
Whereas some middle-age men may try their hand at, say, model trains or bonsai maintenance, these adrenaline junkies – who are "used to the realities of war," says Hervey – seek refuge in a pack of likeminded ruffians. "I'd say 75 percent of our guys maintain white collar livelihoods. So we get on the bikes to get off the treadmill – literally." They find solace on the streets, a place that's not always kind in return. It's a notion that Rockem, who admits to a having suffered a bad cut on his face from a fistfight, agrees with. Same for Sandman, a Laffing Devil who was arrested in 2012 for burglary, attempted murder (with a knife), assault with a deadly weapon and making criminal threats.
All of these disturbances are precisely why fans return to the show (and exactly what keeps it on the air). "It's like what George Carlin says about the continued pussification of the American male," Rockem says in a sincere tone. "Harley-Davidson used to mean something. It used to stand for biker attitude – outlaws and their sweaty mamas rollin' around and looking' for a good time. That's what we're about. That's what we stand for."