Easy Writer: Minnesotan Richard 'Dead Eye' Hayes lives life on the road

Photo by Sue Kearns

A one-eyed Buddhist Harley rider and a 70-year-old writing teacher probably seem like an unlikely pairing.

Yet it works for Richard "Dead Eye" Hayes and Mary Gardner. The two formed a friendship after Gardner began researching motorcycles for her fourth novel, infiltrating the biker community with her homemade cookies. With her editing help, Hayes eventually penned his autobiography, Outlaw Biker: My Life at Full Throttle. In it he details years spent in the Twin Cities dealing drugs, helping to run a bike shop, and raising two daughters, plus high-stakes gambling in Vegas and kicking ass in general. Both Mary and Dead Eye took a moment between writing to speak with City Pages.

CP: You and Mary are an unlikely collaborative pair. Can you talk a little bit about how you two became friends?

Dead Eye: About five years ago a friend of mine, Butch, passed away. I met Mary at his funeral. She was an author that had hung around the shop while researching her fourth novel, which had some bikers in it. I ended up meeting her just shortly before it came out. She asked me to do a blurb for the book, which I did. We got to be friends. She suggested I write my life story, and she talked me into giving it a try. So I ended up giving her 30 pages of childhood experiences. That was the start of it.

CP: Did you ever think you would pen your autobiography?

DE: No. I dropped out of school in ninth grade, and I'm a terrible speller. So writing a book was not on my list of things to do. When I did sit down to write it, I really didn't think it would ever get published; I did it more as a cleansing thing. Then all of a sudden we had agents and the manuscript was accepted. I was faced with the realization: Shit, maybe I shouldn't have written a lot of the stuff I had. It was nerve-wracking. I showed the book to my daughters and other family members. Some of them had had some idea that I had been involved in certain things, but some stories were a complete surprise.

CP: Mary, as you were editing did you ever find yourself censoring things from his past?

MG: I think there was a certain amount of self-censorship with Dead Eye. I think the book is amazingly open for a man of that generation who has led that life. To be able to put all those experiences down I think is a tremendous expression of Dead Eye’s nature and to his honesty about himself.

CP: Do you think Dead Eye had any worries about having so much of his life out there?

MG: I think he’s afraid of losing some of his street cred. I think it’s not so much the violent stuff he had done. His concern was that I might be upset. Of course it didn’t upset me at all, because it’s just his life. He also reveals a lot of tenderness about himself. There might be a little concern that he will be seen as too nice.

CP: Mary, what was it like hanging with bikers? Were you ever completely out of your element?

MG: Not at all. I felt honored that I was accepted because it is a very closed community. I always thought they were beyond imaginable fun. I was one of those girls that played cowboys all the time. I'm not a tomboy, but I find that outlaw image very interesting. You have to realize, in biker society, members can be violent with each other and into criminal things, which isn't true so much now as when Dead Eye was young. Bikers are also almost always chivalrous to children and old ladies.

CP: Mary, do you ever get frustrated by negative perception people might have of bikers?

MG: I think a lot of us have trouble imaging how a life that isn’t like our life is a valid life; not just with motorcycle people. I’m not a crusader, I don’t speak for or against bikers, people just have their lives. Obviously, Dead Eye has perceived some things in ways I don’t perceive them. But we aren’t put on this earth to make over other people perceptions. I’m sure Dead Eye finds many things about me different to say the least.

CP: Dead Eye, you've really seen the Twin Cities bike scene come of age. How has it changed over the years? Has it changed at all?

DE: I think it's changed a lot, especially in regards to motor clubs. Thirty years ago a lot of the clubs where just forming. People were fighting for positions, and everyone was building reputations. We were laying the groundwork. The whole atmosphere was different. It was more "wild west." Twenty-five to 30 years ago, there was a lot of conflict between clubs. Now, I am vice president of the Minnesota Motorcycle Club Coalition, which encompasses 20 different motorcycle groups. The lines of communication are now more open between clubs. You can pick up a phone instead of a bat. I think everything has to evolve. Twenty-five years ago it was looser and rougher. I myself was involved in drugs. Now, everyone has moved on from that mentality. People have jobs, we're working, and we have families.

CP: You mention in later chapters that you practice Buddhism. How has that affected your day-to-day life? Many of your past occupations (drug dealing, collections bounty hunter, chef) strike me as a little un-zen.

DE: I try to be more understanding. I’m not quite as quick-tempered as I used to be. I do a little inner searching before I do something. Some old habits are hard to break. I try to be more understanding with people, but sometimes it doesn’t work.

CP: I find it intriguing that it's not entirely uncommon that motorcycle enthusiasts to practice Buddhism. Do you have any theories as to why?

DE: Maybe it’s the openness, the honesty, the inner searching you spend on a motorcycle just thinking. A lot of people turn to inner thoughts when on the road; I know I do a lot. I can be having a terrible day, and every thing is going badly, yet when I jump on a motorcycle, it just blows out all the cobwebs.

CP: Anything upcoming events that you are excited about?

DE: We’re putting on several poker runs this year. The money for one will go to Camp Courage, and another is going to Fishing without Boundaries, which helps handicapped kids. We’re also doing a toy drive around Christmas. We do work to change the biker image. A lot of people are stuck with the 60s mentality of what motorcycle clubs used to be, especially the police.

CP: Why the recent harassment?

DE: They’re looking for guns and drugs. They’re 25 years too late. We’re not really into that anymore.

Hear Dead Eye and Mary discuss Outlaw Biker, which is in its third publication and has recently been published in England, tonight at Magers & Quinn.