Chip’s 2-1/2-car garage was a corrugated steel building facing the alley, and was insulated with orange, expanded foam spray. The place was lit up like a gymnasium with two rows of fluorescent lights along the full length of the building. The walls were lined with wooden shelves loaded with hand tools, power tools, trays with bolts, screws and nails, as well as paints, oils, solvents, spray cans, Harley parts, and garden implements. There was a large photo of Red taped onto the door of the beer fridge. Lawn, kitchen, and camping chairs were set out around the perimeter and two Harleys were up on the two lifts, one in each bay.
A bunch of the renegades were gathered around the lifts discussing how things ought to be done. There was a lot of animated arguing.
“You know how many guys it takes to fix a Harley?” Chip smirked, “Twelve. Two to work and 10 to decide what they’re doing wrong.”
I’d barely sat down next to Gimp and Tina when Candy brought me a beer. “It’s so nice to see you,” she bubbled; “I didn’t know whether you were coming or not.”
“To tell you the truth, neither did I, Candy, it was sort of a spontaneous decision. I’ve spent most of my life living by schedules and plans, but that didn’t work out too well so I’m trying to live more in the here and now by following my nose.”
“You’ll be surprised where that takes you,” Gimp commented. “I thought my accident was the worst thing that ever happened to me, but it led me to rethink my priorities. Even though I have some limitations, I’m happier than before.”
Tina nodded in agreement.
I told them about my experiences with the Bhagwan. “I’ve learned so much since starting this trip.” I added, “Mostly because I’ve been exposed to influences I’ve never had before.”
“When you need a guru, he’s there,” Tina asserted, “if you’re ready to listen.”
“I want you to meet someone,” Candy said as she grabbed me by the hand and walked me across the room. She introduced me to Red’s mom, who was sitting next to the fridge. She stood up and shook my hand. She had the gaunt, gray look of a person who’s consumed too much nicotine and alcohol during her life.
“Pleasure to meet you Montana; it was very kind of you to get Red’s bike running up in the mountains of Wyoming. Red’s never been on the receiving end of much kindness and you must have made his last days very special.” Tears came to her eyes.
I gave her a hug and whispered, “I’m sorry he’s gone. You must miss him very much.”
“I do. He’s had such a rough life, you know. His dad was a commercial fisherman in Maine. The first thing he did when he came off an excursion was to get drunk, then he’d come home and abuse his family. When Red got older, he tried to defend me and his younger siblings. In response, his dad would beat him mercilessly. I felt terrible but there was nothing I could do.
When my father died, he left me enough money to pack up the family and move to my sister’s place here in Minneapolis. If we hadn’t had her, I don’t think we’d have survived.”
“I’m glad she was there for you,” I responded.
“Thank you,” she replied as she sat down to nurse her bourbon.
As we walked back to our chairs, I asked Candy, “Is she all right?”
“She’s got cirrhosis and will soon be joining her son.” I got chills down my spine.
“All right everybody,” Chip hollered; “I need your attention please? We’re here in honor of our departed friend Red.”
All the talking and the wrenching stopped.
“He was certainly a man who marched to the beat of his own drummer, and he made a unique addition to our group. I know many of you felt very close to him, and he will be sorely missed. So, I’d like to propose a toast to Red.”
Everyone clanged their glasses and bottles together.
“If anyone has a story about Red they’d like to share, now is the time.”
Candy rose immediately and offered a teary eulogy. Several of the others did likewise. Red’s mother stood up, started to say something, then sat down, overcome with emotion. After hearing a few more stories, she stood up and thanked everyone for coming out to honor him. A couple of the girls went to Red’s mother’s side to spend time chatting with her.
The wrenches started clanging and the babble started up again. The fridge door got a lot of use. Every once in a while, Chip went into the house and came back with another cold 12-pack. The beers never stopped flowing during the several hours that followed.
Spider walked up to where I was seated, accompanied by a tall redhead with hair the same color as his. “This is my sister, Evelyn. She’s been wanting to meet you, Montana.”
“Spider’s told me a lot about you,” she said. “It was nice of you to stay so cool when he crashed your bike. He really appreciated that. Most of the guys here would have gone ballistic in that situation.”
“There wasn’t much I could do, but Spider was true to his word and fixed everything. I respect him for that.”
“I love your bike,” she said. “Spider said it ran really smoothly. Would you take me for a ride this week?”
“Absolutely; I need a navigator to show me the area.”
“You’re on. How about Wednesday afternoon?”
As she walked off with Spider, I asked Gimp about her.
Tina answered, “She’s a dental hygienist who always takes Wednesdays off. I think she’s got her priorities right. Life has to be more than just the pursuit of money; it has to have balance. Her ex-husband is an accountant and he never understood that. She doesn’t have any kids but she dotes on her two miniature poodles.”
“Does she have a motorcycle?”
“Nope, but she often shows up at our events on the back of Spider’s bike.”
“Great, she knows how to ride.”
“She loves it.”
“I’ve been in Minneapolis for an hour and already I’m delighted I came!” I exclaimed. Everyone laughed.
“Ow, damn, damn!” someone shouted. I looked over to see one of the mechanics pull his hand away from a lift. It was black with dirty oil and red from blood, which was dripping onto the floor. Chip grabbed him and led him over to the laundry sink, where he ran warm water over the wound.
“Go get the first aid kit, Candy!” he hollered. She returned a minute later with a white metal box.
“You’re going to have to clean your hand with soap, KP, so we can see the damage.” He lathered up but it didn’t remove much of the oil.
“Use this!” Chip directed as he handed him a disposable mechanics towel pre-moistened with a grease-cutting cleaner. KP winced but when he was done, we could see the damage. KP had lost the nail off his middle finger, which was now blue. He was not comfortable.
“You want us to take you to the hospital, KP?” Candy asked.
“For this?” he responded, “Nah, I’ll be all right.”
Chip fetched a flask of rubbing alcohol and poured some in a cup. “Stick your finger in here and leave it there for a minute!” KP complied and winced again. All the guys standing around were wincing as well.
After drying it off, Candy covered the finger in Neosporin – it was still bleeding – and wrapped it several times around with bandages. When she was done, she offered to drive him home.
“Hell no,” KP responded; “I’ve got to keep an eye on these guys while they finish replacing my primary chain.”
Everyone laughed in relief. KP had behaved in a manner befitting a weekend warrior. I sat down next to him and he handed me a beer from a cooler at his side.
A car pulled up to the garage door and a kid got out with three large pizzas. Everyone dived in. There was a lot of talk about Sturgis, the swimming hole, and Red.
After all the pizza was gone, someone started cleaning the black grease, grit, and blood off each of the parts that KP had disassembled. Others carefully removed the old primary chain and the crankshaft gear to install the new replacement; all under the scrutinizing gaze of KP – who said very little. He didn’t have to; there was enough criticism from the sidelines to keep the mechanics from taking shortcuts. After everything was reassembled, they received pats on the back. Another guy grabbed some rags and wiped any residual dirt and fingerprints off the engine cases to polish things up.
Then they enjoyed a victory beer.
The camaraderie was palpable and it was a pleasure to be part of it. I was beginning to understand the Harley cult.
Editor’s Note: we are aware that “gimp” can have a derogatory meaning and mean no insult to anyone disabled. In the story, the person with that nickname doesn’t consider it as such, and we present the story in that context.
Header image courtesy of Pexels.com/Kindel Media.