Docu-Mama

Rising documentary filmmaker Barbara Bustillo-Cogswell rides high on the hog

There is the sound of packs of hogs. An audible rotary force that grasps the chest and rearranges heartbeats. A thousand speed-addled Keith Moons banging contrarily away on tom-toms, kicks and snares couldn't top its fanfare.

The crooning grumble of pampered hog motors concedes to snappy spitters and spats, and the racket ends. The ears rest with a roaring stillness, the wake of a discord that inspires noise ordinances in the most broad-minded communities.

It's a sound attached with an image that has stirred myth and legend in word and film. Capturing it all on tape is filmmaker Barbara Bustillo-Cogswell.

Bikers are flocking into the parking lot at Park Central Mall. The surge of energy they bring passes through Starbucks, where comfy gentry in weekend leisure ensembles show concerned expressions.

A denim-and-leather-clad biker enters the sanitized coffee house, searing its atmosphere like a sour scent. He is flanked by a lanky peroxide blonde in paint-me-on stretch jeans and steep spike-heel leather knee-highs. The biker sports a grizzled chin and stringy, unwholesome hair. A sizable Lost Dutchman Motorcycle Club patch adorns the back of his road-tired jacket. The two order coffee and pay.

Seated nearby, a middle-aged woman steals a glance at the biker couple as they move past. She leans forward, pressing her face into serpentine steam rising out of her coffee. She whisper-hisses at her husband, "Something should be done about these people." The husband's shiny head remains immobile, askew; the Sunday paper in front of him holds its attention.

The bikers head out, each clutching a lidded cup of coffee. The woman seated at the table is still visibly angry and watches the couple move through the front glass doors.

The unlikely scent of jingoism mixed with patchouli oil lingers.

Outside, a crowd of nearly 2,000 bikers is gathered. They will soon rumble south on Central Avenue (escorted by motorcycle cops) to demonstrate individual and group adherence to patriotism and personal freedoms. The Wesley Bolin Plaza at the state Capitol is the group's destination.

The Arizona Freedom Rally Y2K, as it is called, is an annual biker fest for statewide motorcycle clubs, organizations, independents and enthusiasts.

The pretext of the rally is motorcycle rights awareness and the need to educate elected representatives, as well as bikers, in the interest of endorsed motorcycling. The obvious subtext to all of this is the need for the biker community to flex a bit of political muscle.

One could guess of many less interesting places to be than the parking lot of a faded shopping mall full of enthused bikers.

Polished and preserved machines shimmer in rows under a too-warm January sun. A fuchsia teardrop gas tank is as common as a stars-and-stripes sidecar; a relinquished 'Vette motor drives a three-wheeler that looks like a mechanical marriage of Steven Sprouse and Road Warrior; the Limey Riders motorcycle club is all about vintage Triumphs, and is the only local motorcycle club here that openly touts its anti-sexist stance and predilection for Brit bikes.

Choppers are over there, speedy trikes over here, and the occasional Asian anomalies such as Suzuki and Yamaha. Ape-hanger handlebars conjure longings for the open road, as defined in a moment of brilliance by Jack Nicholson and accordingly misinterpreted to horrifying results by scores of Hollywood filmmakers.

Harleys, of course, are everywhere, machines mercilessly ridden into old age. Embraced by classicists, this is exactly how they are intended to appear.

Many sun-drenched men with more than slight resemblances to Sam Elliott or Willie Nelson sport arrogant-looking leather that flaunts colors of many of Arizona's two dozen or so biker clubs: Lost Dutchman Motorcycle Club, Spartan Riders MC, Vietnam Vets MC, Bikers for Christ MC (speeding with God on their side and doling out business cards that quote John 14:6 -- ". . . Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me"), Devil's Disciples MC, Stoned Sober MC and so on.

The Hells Angels arrive stylishly late, in the true badassesness that makes them the state One Percenters (a name used for that club which sits atop the biker-club hierarchy).

A registration table offers up free bumper stickers displaying such forget-me-nots as "American by Birth/Biker by Choice," mini-wallet calendars touting attorneys specializing in aid to injured motorcyclists, and fliers with images of Kings and Jacks and hirsute-faced bikers advertising forthcoming biker affairs.

Women and girls, ranging in age from 3 to 78, blend in with four times as many men and boys. Dads, grandpas, mothers, aunts and children.

There are even a few privileged types, ungraceful in the residue of misdirected imaginations that embrace impulsive purchases of $30,000 Harleys and $25 Velcro headbands for a few weekends of posturing as bad boys.

Amid this collection of city workers, war vets and cable TV installers, lawyers, teens and children, and the long hair, tattoo sleeves and the occasional sidearm, two female documentarians wield broadcast-quality digital cameras. Bustillo-Cogswell is capturing more footage for her own film, while the second camera wielder works on a documentary about Bustillo-Cogswell herself.


"What are you rebelling against?" asks the small-town girl in the 1954 film The Wild One. "Anything you got," replies the assured biker gang leader played by Marlon Brando.

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