“Have you ever been in a fight?” Trevor Latham, president of the legendary East Bay Rats Motorcycle Club, asked me.
I wanted to lie, to tell him that I’ve been in lots of fights, that I wasn’t afraid of anything, that I spent my formative years holding nerds upside down to shake loose change from their pockets.
“Not since I was a teenager,” I said, with my chest puffed out.
“Well, that’s better than nothing.”
We were standing on the edge of the boxing ring in the courtyard behind the East Bay Rats’ clubhouse. The ground was trampled flat, pocked with burn marks and dark stains that I imagined to be blood. “Who are these guys?” I asked, gesturing to two men sparring in the ring.
“That’s Vince,” Trevor said, pointing to a man who seemed to be leading the training. “And that’s Eager Tim.”
This other man had a beard and was dressed in a black hoodie and black jeans.
“Why do they call him ‘Eager Tim’?” I asked.
“It’s because Tim’s eager. He’s been training every day for three weeks for Fight Night.”
If you live in Oakland, chances are you’ve heard rumors about Fight Night. It’s a party that the East Bay Rats have been hosting for over twenty years, inviting anyone who is brave enough the chance to climb into the ring and punch the lights out of someone they’ve never met. A lazy comparison would be Fight Club, though Trevor’s motivations are more altruistic than utter anarchy.
He’ll tell you that everyone has a fire in them. If they’re able to let that fire out in the ring then maybe they won’t hit their wives or their kids or get into fights in public. There’s a lot of tension in Oakland — a lot of friction between the locals and the gentrifiers — and all of that frustration has to go somewhere. Fight Night is the Rats’ attempt at keeping everyone’s rowdiness in check. Their own mini version of The Purge.
“Does everyone in the club fight?” I asked.
“Not everyone. Most of the people who come aren’t bikers, they’re just normal people looking to let out some aggression.”