On a sunny Sunday, the glare of chrome at the side of Mulholland Highway near Seminole Hot Springs was strong enough to momentarily blind the eyes.
Parked in haphazard rows along the edge of the road, in front of a tiny wood-frame convenience store and restaurant, are hundreds of motorcycles.
The name of the place is the Rock Store, and to motorcycle enthusiasts from throughout the Southland, and across the nation, there is no better destination.
For 25 years, bikers have made the weekend journey through the winding roads of the Santa Monica Mountains to the Rock Store, to park their cycles, swig beer from bottles hidden in brown paper bags, meet old friends, make new ones, and gawk at the newest and most expensively customized models.
“Sunday at the Rock Store is a real ritual with these people,” explained Dan Ford, 43, an employee of a motorcycle component manufacturer, who has made the store his regular Sunday haunt for more than 15 years. “You see a lot of the same faces. Everybody needs a place to go where they can be among friends--even motorcycle riders.”
Old friends gather in the same sections of the parking lot, week after week. Owners of new high-speed Japanese-manufactured cycles park near the road. Harley-Davidson owners hang back, lining their motorcycles under a forked oak tree where Rock Store owner Ed Savko first began parking his old Harley 25 years ago.
“I guess what happened was that people would ride by and see my cycle and they figured it was safe to drive on in,” said Savko, 60, who gave up his Harley years ago, but still runs the store with his wife, Veronica. “There aren’t too many places around here--or anywhere, for that matter--that like doing business with motorcycle people.”
Savko has prospered from his motorcycle-riding clients, selling 150 breakfasts, 50 cases of beer and dozens of sandwiches on a typical Sunday. Film production companies regularly rent the site, lured by its remote location in the hills and the antique gas pumps Savko maintains out front.
Always on Sunday
But Sundays are reserved for the motorcycle riders. By noon, it is not uncommon to find 500 of them in the Rock Store lot, mingling, joking and--when California Highway Patrol cars are not in evidence--challenging each other to an occasional race.
The tiny store’s continuing popularity as a weekend gathering spot has also made it the occasional target of CHP officers trying to crack down on high-speed racing in the area.
“I can’t recall any problems we’ve had at the store,” CHP Sgt. Terry Enright said. “The roads are a different story. We get a lot of complaints from residents about high-speed racing. And it’s not easy to give them tickets. A lot of these kids ride high-performance bikes and our patrol cars aren’t any match for them.”
Last summer, CHP officers countered by waiting on Mulholland near the Rock Store and ticketing cyclists for exhaust and speed violations.
Lawmen Are Watching
On one Sunday, Ed Savko said, 240 of his customers were cited. He and many of the Rock Store’s customers grumble about harassment from law enforcement officers.
But there are other patrons, like Harley owner Alan Crocker, who agree with Enright that safety is a problem. “There are a lot of spills on the roads on the weekend,” the 34-year-old Granada Hills man said.
Crocker, a Lockheed Aircraft employee, dresses like an outlaw biker, complete with black leather vest, black gloves and dark aviator shades. But Crocker is more interested in talking about his motorcycle, a classic 1948 Harley that he rebuilt in two months, than striking poses.
“That’s the way it is around here,” he said. “It’s just a mellow afternoon. We may look bad, but we’re just out here for a few beers and conversation.”
There is no shortage of black leather in the Rock Store’s parking lot. Sweat-stained bandannas, matted beards and ominous pale tattoos seem to be required by dress code.
Out of Suburbia
Yet Ed Savko talks about his customers as if they were patrons of a suburban shopping center.
“Most of these people are 9-to-5ers,” said Savko, whose own informal sports attire would be more in place on a golf course. “We get doctors, lawyers, actors, even a few bench judges once in awhile. A lot of them carry business cards.”
Some, Like Art Armijo, are old enough to be grandfathers. The 71-year-old sheet metal contractor drives his compact “V-max” cycle into the Rock Store lot every Sunday.
“I’ve been riding 53 years,” he said proudly. “I’ve been coming out here 12 years and I wore out five bikes on these mountain roads.”
And there are youngsters like Travis Bolinas, 10, and his friend, Donald Dowers, 12, who scurried from motorcycle to motorcycle, snapping photographs with an instant camera.
“We want to get pictures of our favorites,” Bolinas said.
Voice of the Machine
But they both discarded former favorite snapshots when they saw John Bunwell’s $18,000 customized Honda--a massive, steel and chrome-bound cycle, outfitted with television, radio, CB and cassette deck. What most fascinated the youths was a voice-activated sensor built into the bike which responded when they approached the driver’s seat.
“I bet you’ve never seen a machine like this,” the motorcycle rasped.
“Wow,” agreed Bolinas.
Most conversations at the Rock Store, though, are between humans. And the subject, always, is motorcycles.
“This is better than flipping through a magazine,” cyclist Greg Ponton said. “I come up here every other weekend and talk cycles for hours. The incredible thing is that everybody is up here to do the same thing. Nobody ever gets tired of it. That’s my idea of heaven, man.”