In the post-Easy Rider days of 1978, you'd have thought that anyone with an Italian leather jacket and a bike could score with the ladies. You'd have been wrong.
Rodney Davenport and Milton Finley -- aka PD, short for "Pimp or Die" -- were fixtures on the burgeoning biker scene with their Kawasaki 650s. The duo's game was tight enough, but their jackets were missing something. "Girls would look on our back and didn't see no club patches or nuthin'," remembers PD. "So they wouldn't give us any play."
Both were riders, not joiners -- so they rode on. But every bike needs a girl in Daisy Dukes on the back. Then an idea hit. "I looked over at Rodney one day and said, 'We got to get us a club together.'" So they got some jackets, sewed on a simple patch reminiscent of the Bat Signal, and founded the Omens Motorcycle Club.
They were neither a gang of low-rent Mafiosi nor a group of button-down dentists who wore leather on weekends. They were blue-collars who rolled in packs from party to party, welders and Ford assembly-line workers who rode every free moment. Kawasakis took precedence over Harleys. And while they might pop wheelies for the kids or get into an occasional scrap, they weren't that much different from any other working stiff with a belly full of cheap wine on a Saturday night.
Their parties, however, were legendary.
At their clubhouse on East 123rd and Kinsman, the Omens held cabarets, wet T-shirt and "bare-as-you-dare" contests. Sometimes the doors were locked, the ladies got soaked, and the next thing you knew, everyone in the place was in some stage of undress.
"We didn't intend to throw no lock-down, anything-goes-style parties," PD says. "But sometimes, that's just how they ended up. We would do our thing, and people would come from all around to get in our spot."
From two people, the club quickly grew to close to 200. Neighbors in the Kinsman-Buckeye area gave the Omens wide birth. At times, members used fisticuffs to keep the peace. "That's a lot of where we got our rep from," says PD. "We were just a no-nonsense club. Don't start none, won't be none." But, naturally, the kids thought they were the coolest, and that's when the Omens started to reach out.
Their windowless clubhouse was a stark storefront that people crossed the street to pass. But kids, fearless souls that they are, began hanging out to play pinball and video games. Their parents weren't so crazy about this. "So in order to give them a level of comfort, we started throwing parties strictly for the kids," PD says. "We'd have contests, throw holiday and birthday parties, and give out rides for good grades."
As club members aged and matured, the priorities changed. The Omens became parents and property owners, and began to realize that they had an interest in keeping the neighborhood safe. So they started serving as a de facto crime-watch team and held food-and-clothing drives when houses burned down. What started out as a group of drunken knuckleheads was turning into a posse of public benefactors. "I think it was just a function of growth," says Peacemaker, who refuses to divulge his name. "When you're young, chasing tail is the priority. As you get older, you look around and realize there's more to life."
Twenty-five years on, there are remnants of the older motorcycle clubs, but none with the reputation for community service -- and partying -- that the Omens maintain. They have become less a gang than a band of low-tech superheroes -- the guys the cops call when they need help.
"The Omens are always available and eager to lend a hand," says Councilman Joe Jones. "They enhance the community, and it's good to have them out working in our neighborhood."
The Omens don't just don't activate in the face of emergency -- they have a relationship with the mayor's office and Fourth District police. They were prominently involved in the search for Shakira Johnson and are still assisting in the search for Amanda Berry. The Omens recently partnered with WENZ 107.9 for a clothing-and-food drive, and they invited 3,000 kids to the Fourth District police station for a Halloween party.
"The Omens have been a consistent presence -- helping to fight against crime, drugs, and just generally lending a hand for five years or better," says 4th District Commander Mike McGrath. "They are here year after year and have built a powerful partnership with us."
McGrath acknowledges that some Omens may be doing some "dumb things," but there are cops doing dumb things, too. Beyond issuing them a few speeding tickets and having to clean them out of their condemned clubhouse -- the building owner had neglected the property -- McGrath hasn't had to take any other actions or received any complaints.
But to look at them, they could still be mistaken for TV wrestlers. They are foreboding, tall and thick, most weighing in at 250 or better. They aren't your mother's neighborhood-relief committee.
"Community activists come in all shapes and sizes, but I think even they realize they are fighting a stigma," says Councilman Zachary Reed. "I think they are misperceived as out-of-control drug people, consuming lots of alcohol. But that's not them at all -- they do good work in our community."
Besides, as Reed notes, everyone likes to party. "Lawyers flood the strip clubs in the Flats every happy hour," he says. "What does that say about them -- that all lawyers are drunks?"
"People see us and kinda withdraw, and I understand that -- we big dudes," says Renard McMillan, the Omens' national president. "We want the respect, but we aren't trying to terrorize anyone. We're here to serve."
"These guys get a bad rap, because they are kind of big and intimidating in their leather and all that," says Cleveland Police Sergeant Robert Stanic. "But Santa Claus is a big guy, and if he puts on a black leather jacket with a bat on the back, he might be intimidating too."
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