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Tag: cave creek

Talking to animals: What Ace had to say


If I had to guess what was on Ace’s mind at a given moment, here’s what I think it would be:

“Food. FOOD. How about some food? Got any food? Gimme food. I really like food. I like you, too, but I really like food. Is that food I smell? Perhaps you’d like to give me some. Is it time for food? Food. Food. Food.”

Don’t get me wrong. I think he’s a far more complex being than that – more than a creature with a one-track mind. He loves and fears and empathizes and, I think, ponders more than his next meal.

But, when it comes to the mysterious song that plays in his head — and I’m guessing it’s a song, for all I know it could be haiku – food would have to be the repeated refrain.

When, during our weeks in Cave Creek, Arizona, we sat down with animal communicator Debbie Johnstone of Listen 2 Animals – I sat down, anyway, Ace kind of wandered –  I was hoping that he wouldn’t be so stuck on the chorus that the other lyrics couldn’t come through.

But they did. According to Debbie, Ace spoke to her – sometimes in words only she could hear, also by conveying images and feelings. Only a minute after we sat down, she’d gotten her first impressions of him:

“He’s one  happy dog, and he’s very passionate.”

Animals have spoken to Debbie since she was a toddler, she says. At first, she figured everybody could hear them. Born in West Virginia, and raised in Ohio, she didn’t have pets of her own, but she had long conversations with neighborhood animals – until her mother told her at age 7 that she was a big girl now and it was time to stop doing that.

So, for several decades, she did. She stopped acknowledging that she could hear what animals were thinking, and went on to become a computer programmer.

Her job with a major corporation brought her to Arizona in 1992,  and she took on new responsibilities as she rose through the ranks — including laying off people. After 9/11, she found herself doing more and more of that, to the point it was making her physically ill.

“I said, ‘I can’t do this any longer,’” and with that she began searching for a new calling. While trying to figure out what that was, she started doing volunteer work at Arizona Equine Rescue, where she  met a Shamanic healer who sensed she had the gift. With his help she enrolled in a course in animal communication and resumed talking to animals.

In 2003, she started her own company, Listen 2 Animals, where, in addition to serving as a translator between the human and animal worlds, she helps find lost animals, resolves animal-related conflicts and coaches humans on how to better communicate with their animals. Her sessions, with horses, cats and dogs, usually range from 15 minutes to an hour and run $30 to $90.

Debbie says the messages from animals come to her in different ways.

Sometimes she senses it. ”I’m empathic I can feel what the animal feels,” she said. Other times she  might see a picture, experience a taste or smell, or hear a noise. Some of the information is conveyed to her through what she calls “thought drops,” which made me think of the comic strip device, where what one’s thinking appears in a cloud with dots leading down to the person’s head. Sometimes she hears words, as if they are actually talking. “Sometimes they just come right out and tell me. Sometimes animals know exactly what’s wrong and can tell you, other times they don’t know.”

Her clients range from people who want to know why their cat stopped using the litter box, to what the old dog thinks of a new dog in the house, or — most commonly — people seeking some guidance in making the decision to put an old, sick animal down.

Amost half of her calls are from people whose animals are “getting ready to transition” and want to know how the animal feels about it. More often than not — despite all the human angst – the dog or other animal in question is ready to proceed. “They’re not afraid of death,” she said.

Debbie met Ace and me in a fenced yard behind a store in Cave Creek. It was Ace’s second meeting with an animal communicator. (You can read about the first at the Baltimore Sun.)

The first thing Debbie did when Ace approached was seek permission from him. She says she always asks an animal first if she can communicate with them — “otherwise, it would be like walking into somebody’s house without knocking.”

Right away, she said, Ace told her “he knows why he’s here.” Ace sat at her feet for a few moments, then took off to explore the yard we were sitting in.

I’d explained to Debbie that Ace had been traveling for seven months, and that I wanted to know what he thought of our nomadic lifestyle.

After relating her initial impressions, Debbie said Ace was communicating to her in words: “I actually heard the words, ‘This is what I was born to do.’

“He takes this very seriously,” she continued. “He really feels this is an assignment, or a job, if you will. He’s sharing a feeling of always moving, moving a lot … moving and freedom.” She compared how Ace feels with the feeling she had when she got out of the corporate world and started doing what she really wanted to do.

“Passionate, energized, that’s the feeling he gives me — that his life is about more than just going through the motions. He finds it joyful to met new people, go new places, see’s new things. He’s not tired, he finds it energizing … He likes doing different and new things … What’s really important to him is being with you.

“But still,” she added, “he’s looking forward to the day you get in one place, in a home.”

Debbie passed on some other information as well:

  • Ace likes the color red.
  • The chain link fence around the yard we were sitting in reminded him of his days in the shelter. She saw him as one of a litter of three, who was dropped off at the shelter by someone who didn’t speak English.
  • Ace has some achiness in his left hip joint, but it’s not painful.
  • Ace “thinks everybody really, really likes him.”
  • Ace likes eggs, and would like to be served them more often.
  • When I asked Debbie if Ace would prefer to eat twice a day, as he used to, or once a day, as he now does, she responded, “He wants to know if there’s a third choice.”
  • Ace enjoys being a dog, she says, as most dogs do. “If we could feel about ourselves like our animals feel about themselves, we would be very, very free. They’re just pleased about who they are.”

Debbie said Ace doesn’t mind riding in the car (which is red, by the way).

“It’s not something that bothers him because he likes to be with you. But he would like you to stop more often so he can get out and sniff and stretch. He likes to investigate and see new things.”

The last seven months have provided ample opportunity for that, and it was good to hear that — in her opinion — he didn’t consider our trip a total drag.

Debbie didn’t say that Ace was eager to get back to Baltimore. Even though he doesn’t speak to me in words, I think that’s a safe bet. I’m not certain whether that city will become home for me again, but according to Debbie, Ace already has that part figured out.

“Where you are, that’s home to him.”

If only I could read his mind …

While I feel pretty attuned to my dog – though nowhere near as attuned as he is to me – there have been times, lots of times, during our seven months of traveling that I’ve wondered what he really thinks of it all.

We’ve been on the go since the end of May, not staying anywhere, until our most recent stop, for longer than two or three days. More often, it has been a new Motel 6, or similarly priced lodgings, every night, followed by four, five or six hours of drive time, then landing in a new place, with new smells, which must be sniffed out and, of course, peed on.

By the time we’re done, in another week, we will have traveled over 22,000 miles, he will have peed on 31 states (and Canada) and we will have crossed the country twice in our red Jeep Liberty.

And he will have, hundreds of times, looked up at me with those big brown eyes, which are so highly expressive.

If only I knew what they were expressing.

Ace in May in North Carolina

The back of my Jeep, which once meant he was heading on an outing, has become — other than me, and dinner — one of the few constants in his life of late. It, more than any place, is home, and he still jumps in it excitedly.

During our four weeks of sitting still in Arizona, he still waits to jump in the car. Is it  conditioning, or is he truly eager to go; and, if the latter, is it because he has come to love the road, or that he wants to finally get the hell home?

Is he enjoying the adventure, or, irony of ironies, does he find the Liberty confining?

 While Ace seems to have adapted wonderfully to the new routine – or lack of one – and shows no visible signs of being unhappy, I still wonder if not being rooted, not having one place to call home, is bothering him.

Ace in June in Alabama

Does he find being a vagabond liberating, as I – most of the time – do, or is he longing for a place of his own, an end to the travels, a return to the daily routine? Dogs do seem to love their routines.

His tail has remained curled most of the time, and that has always been the most obvious barometer of his mood.

But there are times I look at him, when he’s lying with his head on his paws that I wonder: Is he sad, is he depressed, or is he just lying with his head on his paws?

It’s important for me to know, because this trip, in more ways than one, is about him.

In addition to having nothing better to do, thinking it might be fun to travel across America, documenting our daily exploits and seeking out dog stories — to put together a “Travels With Charley” for modern times, only a more dog-centric version — this journey was also sparked by a feeling I was left with after writing my first book, “DOG, INC.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend.”

Ace in July, outside Amarillo

After researching the often incredible lengths bereaved pet owners go to when their dogs get sick and die, including that most high tech length of all – cloning – it struck me, in what is likely neither a deep nor original thought, that we humans could, and should, do a better job of savoring our loved ones (of all species) while they’re still around. Maybe then, rather than prolonged and paralyzing grief, we could, knowing we had fully celebrated their lives, better accept their deaths.

Ace in August, at the beach in North Carolina

I don’t really know if that would lessen the pain of a loved one’s departure. It could, for all I know, only make it worse. But that’s not the point. The point is we humans, as the song goes, “don’t know what we’ve got ‘til it’s gone,” that we take things for granted – not just unpaved paradises, but our parents, our planet, our friends and our dogs.

And while I’m as guilty as anybody on the parents and friends part, I resolved – after writing about how people go so far as to “stuff,” mummify and freeze dry their deceased pets, or pay $100,000 to produce a genetic replica through cloning – that Ace would be appreciated. In life.

In September, aboard a sailboat we slept on in Baltimore

That doesn’t mean spoiled and pampered — that’s entirely different. But I made a promise to myself to fully enjoy my dog — to, if it’s not too precious a word, treasure him (not that I didn’t already) — in our relatively brief time together. (Ace, who came into my life when he was 6 months old, is going on 7 years now, and being a big dog, will be lucky to reach the teens.)

Ace at Niagara Falls in October

I saw the trip, rightly or wrongly, as a way to do that – to take the time we shared beyond the routine of coming home from work, walking to the park, eating dinner and snuggling in front of the TV — though, again, for all I know, perhaps that was the life that Ace really preferred.

If, as I suspect, our dogs reflect our moods, then doing what makes me happiest, I reasoned, would make him happiest – especially given the fact that we’d be doing it together — and probably nothing makes me happier, other than Ace laying his head on my belly, than traveling, writing, seeing new things, and meeting new people.

So, even though finances didn’t really permit it, with an assist from my 401K and unemployment benefits, we set off on this journey, not being sure where it would lead, how long it might last, or what, other than some stories to share, it might result in.

In November, on the coast of Oregon

At first, I planned for three months on the road. When that was done, we kept going, heading to the former home of John Steinbeck on Long Island and, on the same day he left 50 years earlier, starting again, roughly following the same route the author took in “Travels With Charley.” That took another three months.

Now, we’re preparing to head back east – we’re still not sure where home is, but Baltimore will do for now. We’ll be sticking to interstate highways to make better time. If there’s one thing I’ve learned on this trip, it’s that schedules and itineraries – and particularly interstate highways — make traveling, at once, more stressful and boring. They snuff out any opportunities for spontaneity. You miss out on the character, and characters, America has to offer.

But as we “make good time,” I’ll be a little less stressed about whether Ace is enjoying the ride.

Ace and friends in December, Cave Creek, Arizona

Despite all the time I pondered the questions; despite my long looks into his soulful brown eyes attempting to gauge his emotions; despite some one-sided conversations where I’ve attempted to explain things, with his only response being giving me his paw; despite priding myself on having some dog empathy, I’d been unable to figure out the answer to that question: Is Ace having fun?

So, last week, before I left Cave Creek, I sought a second opinion.

It was Ace’s second visit with an animal communicator – the first having come when I was researching a series I wrote for the Baltimore Sun about trying to uncover the past of my mysterious new dog, adopted from what used to be the city pound.

What was he, and where did he come from? For the answers then I turned to DNA testing (which showed him to be a Rottweiler-Chow-Akita), to legwork (walking the streets of the neighborhood where records showed he’d been picked up as a stray) and, finally, to an animal communicator. Perhaps the answers, I figured, could come straight from the source: Ace.

I’m neither a big believer, or for that matter a big disbeliever, in those that claim animals talk to them, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to listen – to them, or, if possible, to Ace. 

Not long after parking myself in Cave Creek, Arizona, I visited For Goodness Sake, a thrift store that donates part of its profits to animal rescue organizations. At a weekend fund-raising event there, I entered a raffle for a session with a local animal communicator, and I won.

Last week, Ace and I sat down with Debbie Johnstone of Listen 2 Animals.

And according to her, Ace had lots to say.

(Tomorrow: Ace talks)

Adios, desert: Working our way back east

It’s time to pull out of Petite Acres, say goodbye to Arizona and make our way back east.

We’ll hit the road tomorrow morning – bound, eventually, for Baltimore — having accomplished most of what we stopped here for.

First on the list was sleep, and I got lots; followed by catching up on work, at which I was somewhat less  successful; and getting organized, a goal I didn’t fully reach, either.

We had our recreational vehicle experience, staying four weeks in a camper in the desert – though, come to think of it, I didn’t recreate in it. Nor, it being a detached trailer, anchored in a trailer park, did I use it as a vehicle.

Nevertheless, we got to spend Christmas with family. (And, yes, they all liked their regifts.). We got the car washed, our clothes clean, and did some hiking in the desert.

And, last night (though this isn’t one of them), I finally saw some javelina.

I peered out the window of my camper before I went to sleep and saw three of them, about 30 yards away, walking through the shadows of the trailer park, appearing almost comical with their giant heads and tiny legs. They walked in a row, one behind the other, from trailer to trailer, looking like a family shopping at the mall.

It was one final offering from the desert, in whose wild side I find serenity. I’ll miss it.

I’ll miss my little trailer, which – with its pop-outs popped out — actually is quite big; I’ll miss Petite Acres, my modest trailer park, which actually is owned by a millionaire, who lives in a trailer, too; I’ll miss Cave Creek, which transforms from a quiet little town during the week to a hopping destination on weekends.

I’ll miss my neighborhood bars – the Hideaway Grill (the biker one) The Buffalo Chip (the cowboy one, with live bull riding two nights a week) and Harold’s (the Pittsburgh Steelers one).

Crowds gather at Harold’s when the Steelers are on TV, and, with their cheerleading led by a guy on a microphone, I can hear them from my trailer: “Here we go, Steelers, here we go.” Once you hear that phrase chanted 300 times, it tends to keep replaying in your head, long after the game is over.

I stopped in for a beer there last Thursday, not knowing a game was about to start. When I took a seat at the bar, I learned that they were all reserved. People buy season tickets to sit at the bar and watch the game. Each stool had a placard with a name on it, and I had inadvertently taken “Wild Bill’s” spot. I thought about moving over one stool, to one marked “Brenda,” but decided if Wild Bill showed up – hopefully without guns a blazin’ – I would just explain I was keeping it warm for him. Wild Bill never showed up, but then I only stayed for the first quarter, as the game, against the Carolina Panthers, wasn’t much of a showdown.

Ace seemed to enjoy the break from traveling – tune in later this week to learn more about his feelings on that – especially his visits, several of them unauthorized, with my closest neighbor, Ramiro, who dispensed a few treats, including slow-cooked pork and a tamale. Ace, not understanding Mexican culture, ate the corn husk, but returned it later, in my yard.

Knowing a soft touch when he sees one, Ace would station himself in my yard, waiting for Ramiro to come outside. When I wasn’t watching, he’d sneak over to Ramiro’s, taking a seat at his feet and leaning on him. Ramiro, who thought Ace looked like a lion, called him “leon,” which is Spanish for lion, or would be if I knew how to make an accent thingy over the “o.”

Before leaving, we’d like to thank, first off, our landlord, Tami, for providing our housing, teaching us the ropes of trailer life and showing us around town.

Thanks as well to Desert Foothills Library – the first library on earth to get a copy of my new book, “DOG, INC.” They – in addition to being where I checked out free movies to watch in my cable-less trailer — allowed me to use an office and landline for a radio interview.

Thanks also to the Sonoran News for letting me do another radio interview there.

The book — about the cloning of dog, and the marketing of that service to bereaved pet owners — officially comes out Dec.  30, and promoting it is the main reason for my return to the east coast. Assuming we make it across the country in one piece, I’ll be in Washington for the Diane Rehm Show Jan. 5, and in New York for the Leonard Lopate Show Jan. 7.

In between, with help from The Book Escape in Federal Hill, we’ll be squeezing in a couple of book signings in my old south Baltimore neighborhood – Jan. 5 at the Idle Hour, 201 E. Fort Ave., and Jan. 6 at Captain Larry’s, 601 E. Fort Ave.

(Javelina photo from BisbeeBirders)

12 Days of Christmas, desert style

On the first day of Christmas the desert gave to me: A woodpecker on a telephone pole.

On the second day of Christmas the desert gave to me: Two turtle doves, or some kind of doves, anyway, or maybe pigeons, no, I think they’re doves; and a woodpecker on a telephone pole.

On the third day of Christmas the desert gave to me: Three cartons of Camels purchased from an Indian reservation, because they are much cheaper there, because there’s no tax, but I ended up gambling away what I had saved at the nearby casino anyway; two turtle doves; and a woodpecker on a telephone pole.

On the fourth day of Christmas the desert gave to me: Four really, really big tires, that go on a big open-air monster truck, with numerous passenger seats, offering tourists an “extreme” desert adventure, but probably not a real quiet one; three cartons of Camels; two turtle doves; and a woodpecker on a telephone pole.

On the fifth day of Christmas, the desert gave to me: Five … howling …coyotes … four really big tires; three cartons of Camels; two turtle doves; and a woodpecker on a telephone pole..

On the sixth day of Christmas the desert gave to me: Six Cave Creek t-shirts, for sale at the Indian Village shop next door, which may or may not be run by actual Indians, I don’t know because I haven’t been in there, because they have way too many bossy signs out front, but perhaps it’s necessary; five … howling … coyotes … four really big tires; three cartons of Camels; two turtle doves; and a woodpecker on a telephone pole.

On the seventh day of Christmas the desert gave to me: Seven bitchin’ Harleys, among hundreds more, which appear on the weekends, parked outside the Hideaway, a biker bar next door to my trailer park and which are probably why the Indian Village had to put up those signs in the first place; six Cave Creek t-shirts; five … howling … coyotes … four really big tires; three cartons of Camels; two turtle doves; and a woodpecker on a telephone pole.

On the eighth day of Christmas the desert gave to me: Eight handsome horses, which are much quieter than Harleys, though they don’t have as much horsepower, which seems odd; seven bitchin’ Harleys; six Cave Creek t-shirts; five … howling … coyotes … four really big tires; three cartons of Camels; two turtle doves; and a woodpecker on a telephone pole.

On the ninth day of Christmas the desert gave to me: Nine cowboy hats, made in Guatemala, by Guatemalans, just a tiny bit of the inventory Michael Chazan sets out on display, in a dusty parking lot, as his dog Sarah watches, so of course I had to stop and buy one, which led me to meet one of the original members of the Hell’s Angels, who was inside the bar next door, with a film crew, because they’re making a movie about him; eight handsome horses, seven bitchin’ Harleys; six Cave Creek t-shirts; five … howling … coyotes … four really big tires; three cartons of Camels; two turtle doves; and a woodpecker on a telephone pole.

On the tenth day of Christmas the desert gave to me: Ten cactus branches, all belonging to the same candelabra type cactus, whose branches, for some reason, have little pots on top of them, like tiny helmets, no wait, they’re more like fezzes, which I’m pretty sure is the plural of fez … nine cowboy hats; eight handsome horses; seven bitchin’ Harleys; six Cave Creek t-shirts; five … howling … coyotes … four really big tires; three cartons of Camels; two turtle doves; and a woodpecker on a telephone pole.

On the eleventh day of Christmas the desert gave to me: Eleven precariously balanced boulders, which seem like the could easily dislodge, and tumble down the mountain, and land on one of the fine mansions below, but I guess they don’t, either that or the mountainside mansion owners are so rich they can pay to get them secured; ten cactus branches; nine cowboy hats; eight handsome horses; seven bitchin’ Harleys; six Cave Creek t-shirts; five … howling … coyotes; four really big tires; three cartons of Camels, two turtle doves and a woodpecker on a telephone pole.

On the twelfth day of Christmas the desert gave to me: Twelve saguaros at sunset, really my favorite of all the cacti, because they stand tall, and have arms and wave at you, or at least seem like they are, and they kind of remind me of Gumby, though I never really like Gumby, but I do like cacti, especially saguaro, which are sort of the redwoods of the desert; eleven precariously balanced boulders; ten cactus branches; nine cowboy hats; eight handsome horses; seven bitchin’ Harleys; six Cave Creek t-shirts; five … howling … coyotes; four really big tires; three cartons of Camels, two turtle doves, or some kind of doves, anyway; and a woodpecker on a telephone pole.

Polar Express: All hail breaks loose

 

With just two days left before Santa comes down the chiminea, even Arizona has decided it’s winter.

The last few days in Cave Creek — where I’m living in a (contradiction in terms alert) stationary motorhome — have been wet and cool, with temperatures plummeting at night to around, prepare yourself, 50 degrees.

We get by, and so far without turning on the heat. Instead I use three blankets and Ace. Normally, unless he’s feeling unusually needy, he’ll fall asleep with his head down by my feet and his rear pointed at my face, which is not without ramifications.

On the cold nights though, and there have been a couple, I reposition his 130 pounds so that we are side by side, pointed the same way, so that I might better absorb his warmth.

He puts up with it for a short time, then goes back to his old position.

Last night, as I reached out to give his head a final pat, only to get a handful of butt, we fell asleep to the pitter-patter — I’m pretty sure I heard both pitters and patters — of a gentle rain falling on the trailer roof, only to be awakened an hour or so later by tremendous pelting thuds of hail on the roof.

A hailstorm can be disconcerting in a real house, but in a trailer — without the attic or the insulation — it’s a lot more personal; every thud seems amplified, and a heavy hail sounds like machine gun fire.

Those whacks were enough to get Ace anxious, and when thunder and lightning rolled through he left the bed in search of a more secure hiding place.

It was as if one roof over his head wasn’t enough, and he was looking for a back-up one. He tried under the dinette table, but that was too cramped. He came back to the bedroom and crawled under the tiny ledge the TV sits on, then decided that wasn’t good enough, either.

He went to the front door, but I assured him that — given the falling hail, though I didn’t see it, sounded about golf ball size — wasn’t an advisable option.

So I invited him back on the bed, where he was more than happy to snuggle up as close as he could possibly get, pointed the same way as me, for the duration of the storm.

I threw my an Indian blanket over him, and he seemed to like that even better. I put my arm around him, and that is how we woke up this morning.

I’ve yet to go outside to check my car and my the chiminea for damage, but looking out my window as the sun comes up, the sky looks like maybe it will finally clear up today, and maybe our last few days in Arizona will bring us more sweet sunshine.

On Monday, maybe Tuesday, we’ll start the trip back east, totally unexcited about, and totally unprepared for, a taste of real winter.

A tree goes down, a tamale comes up

The sprucing up of Petite Acres — the trailer park in Arizona where I’ve temporarily hung my hat — continues.

In addition to paving the dirt road that leads into the trailer park, to keep the dust down, the owner hired one of my neighbors, Ramiro, to come over and remove a tree stump from my yard.

As Ramiro brought over his tools — an axe, a pick and multiple shovels — Ace followed him back and forth to his trailer, and, as he has before, got a hand out.

“I was feeding him some tamale and he ate the whole husk,” Ramiro said. “I hope it doesn’t make him sick.”

Clearly, Ace didn’t understand the intricacies of Mexican cuisine; then again, his policy when it comes to any food is generally to eat it first and ask questions later.

Six hours later, about the time the tree finally came down, the tamale came up. Ace walked to the trailer door and started hacking, and got down the stairs just in time to cough up a corn husk.

Simultaneously, Ramiro, who had spent six hours digging and chopping roots, was heaving, too – throwing all his weight on the the six-foot-tall stump, which slowly toppled as he rode it down.

I’m not sure why the stump had to be removed. It takes up much more of my dirt yard now that it’s horizontal instead of vertical, but I’m sure someone will be chopping it up and hauling it away, and filling the giant hole in the ground.

I’d thought it would be cool to leave the stump standing, and paint it to resemble a cactus.

But, being a temporary resident, my vote didn’t count.

Ramiro probably didn’t care either way about the stump in my yard, but once he tackled the task, it became a battle he had to win — and all done without the aid of heavy equipment. It was man versus stump.

Ramiro proudly took a picture of the tree he’d singlehandedly brought down. I took a picture of what Ace coughed up. Then, at Ramiro’s request, I took some pictures with his cell phone camera of him standing atop the fallen tree truck, raising his arms in victory.

All in all, as they go, it was a pretty exciting day at Petite Acres.

Roadside Encounters: Sonny Barger

Name: Sonny Barger

Breed: Hell’s Angel

Age: 72

Encountered: At The Buffalo Chip, a bar and restaurant in Cave Creek, Arizona

Backstory: Sonny (at right, that’s me on the left) was a founding member of the Hell’s Angels, helping establish the Oakland, California, chapter of the club in 1957.

I ran into him this week after I stopped to buy a cowboy hat.

“Those are Hell’s Angels,” the parking lot cowboy hat salesman told me, pointing out the five motorcycles lined up outside of a bar and restaurant called The Buffalo Chip.

“Yeah, right,” I thought, and possibly said out loud. While I’ve seen thousands of motorcyclists descend on Cave Creek in my brief time here — most of them right next door to my trailer park at a place called The Hideaway — they are mostly stockbrokers and accountants and the like, who transform into bikers on the weekend.

“No, this is the real deal,” said my roadside haberdasher. “Sonny Barger is in there.”

Ralph Hubert “Sonny” Barger just so happens to be a founding member of the Hell’s Angels.

So, leaving Ace in the car, I walked in, rudely interrupted a conversation he was having and asked if I could take his picture.

Barger shook my hand and said he could do better than that. “I have a photographer with me.” He called over one of the members of a crew from Fox Movies, in town to scout out locations for a movie based on his autobiography. I handed  the photographer my camera and he took the photo at the top of this post. (So, if you don’t like it, Sonny, blame him.)

I apologized to Barger for not taking my newly purchased cowboy hat off, and explained to him that it had just been dipped in water and was forming to the exact size of my head. Barger was polite and accommodating, and he told me that the movie was something he’d been hoping to get done for 10 years. Now, it appears, it’s going to happen.

Barger was a prominent figure in Hunter S. Thompson’s bestselling book, Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. He’s also mentioned in Tom Wolfe’s best seller, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

He has shown up in movies, too. He appeared in “Hells Angels on Wheels,” and was one of several members of the motorcycle club (I think they prefer the word club to gang) who had cameo speaking parts in “Hell’s Angels ’69.” Just last month he made a short guest appearance on “Sons Of Anarchy,” the television series about a fictional outlaw motorcycle club, based on the Hell’s Angels.

Altogether, Barger has spent about 13 years of his life behind bars, four of those for conspiring to blow up the clubhouse of a rival motorcycle club, the Outlaws, in Louisville, Kentucky.

In 1983, Barger was diagnosed with throat cancer, suspected to be connected to smoking three pack of Camels a day for 30 years. He underwent surgery, smoking a cigarette, it is said, on his way to the operating room. His vocal cords were removed, but he learned to speak again using the muscles in his throat. When he talks, he holds a finger over the hole in his neck.

In more recent years, he has become an author, and his books include Freedom: Credos from the Road, Dead in 5 Heartbeats, 6 Chambers, 1 Bullet and his 2001 autobiography,  Hell’s Angel: The Life and Times of Sonny Barger and the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club. In recent years Barger has worked to promote motorcycle safety, co-authoring The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Motorcycles and, in 2010, Let’s Ride: Sonny Barger’s Guide to Motorcycling.

Barger is a resident of Cave Creek and remains an active member of the Hells Angels Cave Creek Chapter.

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