At the Sturgis Rally: A Story

By Van Patten, Jonathan K. | South Dakota Law Review, Fall 2019 | Go to article overview

At the Sturgis Rally: A Story


Van Patten, Jonathan K., South Dakota Law Review


No need to hurry, he thought. There would be plenty of time today. Jeffries knew that the festive crowd would help. He surveyed the sprawling Harley-Davidson parking area, a chaotic mixture of sights and sounds. More bikes per square foot than anywhere else in the world, even downtown Sturgis itself. To the uninitiated, it was a sea of motorcycles. This sea had many colors, many textures. Machines and men. And women, whose contributions to the diversity of the spectacle were undeniable. One could detect the unmistakable aroma of cannabis over the accumulating mix of exhaust, grease, and sweat. The smoky haze enhanced the sense of unreality, as if the concentration of mind-altering clouds affected vision as well. Bikes came and went, each with a noisy proclamation trailing behind. Rounding out the exhibition were the disembodied sounds of country and rock artists wafting over the crowd. Life was good. It was Rally week in Sturgis.

Because of the crowd, it would have taken longer than usual to reach the store, but that was not Jeffries' destination. Walking around the parking lot and observing was his specialty. This was his fifth Rally and Jeffries felt at home here. He liked bikers, with all their contradictions. They wore their independence proudly, yet had a uniform, of sorts. The uniform was a costume and bore no resemblance to the profession or trade one followed outside of the Rally. Doctors, lawyers, and accountants, as well as plumbers, firefighters, and teachers, all became vocationally undetectable with the cover provided by leather, denim, muscle shirts, and tattoos. Although positions varied widely along the political spectrum from left to right, most harbored a natural skepticism of authority and all shared a love of freedom. Bikers seemed like idealists, flaunting convention as if prophets from another era, but they were ultimately pragmatists, a necessity to survive the dangers of the road, as well as the challenges of group travel, motorcycle maintenance, and the weather. Outwardly adopting the persona of outlaws, they respected property rights, valued competency, and cherished individual autonomy. They also liked to have a good time. And the Sturgis Rally was like Spring Break for adults.

Although he liked bikers, Jeffries' business model left no room for conscience. He stole high-end motorcycles. It was a stone-cold operation. No room for emotion. Operating out of a large, nondescript residence and shop in a mid-sized town in Rhode Island, members of the extended Jeffries family had distinct roles in the business, which had a nationwide presence. Wade Jeffries' focus was on the acquisition end. Bikes parked overnight at apartments, condos, and garages were the mainstay. Easy pickings, so long as the usual precautions for selection were taken. Bike rallies provided special opportunities because they were a gathering place of inventory for which customers could pre-order their preferred make, model, and even color. Specific accessories might pose a problem but were not out of the question. Bike owners were not defenseless against theft. Attention to sensible anti-theft measures was essential. At rallies, there was strength in numbers, but also vulnerability as a result of those numbers. The motorcycle industry and law enforcement had devoted considerable resources to the matter, and the evolving cat and mouse game involved high tech ingenuity, cunning, and luck.

Wade Jeffries had waited for the day to develop. Unlike Black Friday, where the zealous attempted to beat the crowds, he welcomed the opposite. He needed the crowd to bring enough inventory for selection and to provide cover through commotion and chaos that would aid his appropriation. As he meandered through the rows of bikes, the sea of motorcycles broke down quickly under his practiced eye. With this group, the majority were Harleys, but other makes were also represented. Jeffries thought about yesterday's efforts in Deadwood, where the team was able to drive the van right into the lot across from the hotel. …

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