Bent Words

Bent Words

September 30, 2009

I could recall having visited the motorcycle shop where Chris now worked before.

There was essentially no parking once all the employees were present and one had to usually park on the street. In the front of the store, beyond the sidewalk, there was about thirty feet of concrete which inclined toward the front the shop and extended from the garage where the techs worked, past the parts entrance, beyond a glassed in showroom area and finally to a 'tunnel' that extended to the interior rear of the building where used bikes were stored.

The building itself was very old. It had been occupied previously by at least two other owners who specialized primarily in power equipment (lawnmowers, chain saws, snow throwers, edgers, etc.). The various sized heavy duty lawnmower belts could be found hanging from the ceiling in the shop, for the most part untouched save for the spiderwebs mingling in between, years beyond their use. The exterior was shoddy at best -- there were cracks in the walls and red paint chips on the ground and, when you walked in, there lingered a sort of musty smell, like that of an old library, mixed with oil. The dust balls glided across the floor and rolled along the edges of the walls like miniature versions of tumbleweed.

There was no air conditioning and in the summer decades of dust that once clung heavily to every surface now dripped wet from the ceilings and walls. The smell of sweat and exhaust filled the tattered space and employees could usually be found within five feet of the nearest fan. The boys in the back held their shorts open over the floor fans, encouraging the airflow toward more delicate areas, and one could always take refuge in the tunnel where the cool, sunless air flowed freely. The spring was unforgiving with its endless torrents of rain which waterfalled into the showroom and flooded the parts room but the summers days and nights were downright long and torturous.

Wintertime was another story...

There was one giant box of a heater in the showroom, with a bark mightier than a growl, which clanged loudly as it ran during the coldest days but produced little in terms of overall warmth. Then the dust was dry, unsettled and mobile, ever hunting the air for a new surface. Years later, when the shop would move to a 'better' location, you could pick up an old gasket set (once new for an CR125), buried in years of neglect, and instantly recall the scent of that old shop as though you had just walked through its dilapidated doors. Employees walked around with gloves hiding their frozen fingers, hats covering their melons and heavy boots upon their feet.

Whatever the weather was outside, it was always the same inside.

The cement floors were harshly uneven and sometimes cracked where they met the exterior wall. Mice plagued the service department and raccoons attempted to gain entry into the tunnel. The parts and service counters were forever filled with the greasy fingerprints of labor and equally so were the dogeared parts and accessories catalogs. The garage door was beaten and battered, painted years ago without much thought for the windows and not much could be said for the nonexistent ventilation. But I don't know that I ever noticed all this then.

When you exited your vehicle and approached this rundown place, all you could see was the good. Lined up perfectly in a row on the street were fifteen metallic machines all facing the direction of the flow of traffic on that two-lane one-way street -- blue and black and yellow and red and silver -- lunging aggressively forward, sitting abruptly upright or hanging on by a thread, awaiting service or customer pickup. A little further down and perched carefully on that slight hill of a concrete slab were more bits of candy to behold. Brand new pieces of plastic covering unscathed frames and mint condition engines. Single-sided swingarms, massive rear wheels, inverted forks, dual exhausts, color schemes, the latest models...

That's why you were there and that's what you noticed when you approached that old shop -- the motorcycles.

Honda, Suzuki, Ducati, MV Augusta, Cagiva and Husqvarna. Street bikes and dirt bikes and ATVs and scooters and power equipment. Cruisers and sport bikes, touring and moto, used and new, beginners and experts, traveling around town or all over the world. One of everything and something for everyone. That's what caught your eye. You saw the helmets and gloves. The leathers and boots. You saw the windshield you wanted to add to your cruiser, the exhaust you wanted to put on your rocket or the plow blade you wanted to add on to your ATV.

What of the feeble building was recalled when there were so many toys to behold?

And so it was that I found myself wrapped completely up in this excitement, this new world. The idea of speed thrilled me. The notion of danger enticed me. The privilege of working all day around the vehicles I had grown to love floored me. I wanted to be a part of it. I had never been into cars -- they were always just a form of transportation which got you from point A to point B -- but a motorcycle was an experience. You didn't just ride your bike to work; you felt the road and tasted the air, you balanced your stupidity against your better judgment, you avoided chaos and created it all at the same time. It was you against a cage, the world wide open, every part of your body working together to create an attitude, an experience.

My mind was made up -- I applied for a position at the shop...

Written at 9:43 p.m.