This is a rework of one of the Blog University 101 assignments. There are more installments coming.
“Yes,” I said, answering the knock on my door.
“I heard you were looking for a bike,” announced Mike, an airman newly assigned to our squadron of aircraft maintainers. We’d never met.
Aa”Motorcycle,” I corrected.
“Motorcycle. Bike. The terms are interchangeable.”
“For some, I suppose. What do you have in mind?”
“Aren’t we all,” he said, passing through my entryway and claiming a chair near the steel table that came with my room. “Maybe you’re interested in a 1952 Harley K Model. It’s a fixer-upper,” he added, shaking out a Camel and lighting up while he awaiting my response.
“How much?” I ask, cautious of his operative word: fixer-upper.
“Fifty bucks and you get a clear title,” Mike answers.
Finds were tight, but that was nothing new. Fifty-dollars was doable. Of course, I’d need to take a peek at it before he got his money.
“Come on. I’ll show you? I have a car.”
We drive out the main gate of Charleston AFB. In less than a mile into North Charleston, he swings off Kings Avenue and into a quiet neighborhood, and then stops in front of a stately house, white with a manicured front lawn, and trimmed hedge. I follow him up the walk and wait while he raps on the door.
“I’m showing a friend the motorcycle in your storage shed,” he explains to the elderly black lady answering the door.
“That’s fine, Mike. Just be sure to lock up when you’re finished.”
We cross the side yard and then pass through a wide, entry gate to an unpainted shed setting hard against the rear property line. Fetching a key from beneath a clay pot, he pulls open the door and switched on an overhead light. I’m not prepared for the large crate he points to. In fact, I’m quite sure it’s a motorcycle.
“How can I know all the parts are here?”
“They’re in the box. You’ll have to trust me,” he replies.
“I don’t know about this,” I say, lifting a few parts, turning them over. I spot the spoke wheels, both front and rear, the engine, and even the forks and headlight. The secondary chain is on the bottom. From my vantage point it doesn’t look rusty.” I feel overwhelmed.
“It’s all there. I took it apart myself. It needed the front forks resealed. I thought that would be simple enough, but I quickly found I’m not mechanically inclined. I was in over my head from the get go.
“How did it end up in a box if all it needed was fork seals?”
Aunt Ruby, that’s Aunt Ruby you saw at the door, didn’t want the motorcycle in the shed unless it was in a box.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because she’s Aunt Ruby, and she owns the shed, I suppose” he said. Then after a brief pause he added: ” I’m Glad she ain’t mine. Long story short, I was already out of my element. There is no way I can ever get this bike, err this motorcycle back together and back on the road. I think she suspects that, because now she’s bitching about the box.”
“Why don’t you have the independent motorcycle mechanic in North Charleston put back together?” I suggest.
Maybe you’ve forgotten you’re in the Deep South where things are different here. He told me he didn’t work on bikes belonging to colored folks.”
Time seemed to stand still as my mind raced back to 1947 when I was in the fourth grade in Southern California. My best friend was a black boy whose name I’ve forgotten over the past 68 years. He was out of breath one morning, gasping, as he explained that Jackie Robinson had been accepted into a baseball major league. I was glad for him, and I tried to share in his excitement, but I didn’t fully understand the significance of what this meant. Years later I realized the reason I didn’t understand to the extent that he did was because I was not black.
I couldn’t argue his statement. Instead, I nodded, and sorted through the parts again. “You have a clear title?” I ask.
“Absolutely. I can get it notary certified as genuine.”
I still had reservations about this mess. I didn’t have anyplace else to work on it, either. How am I going to deal with Aunt Ruby was a very large question, my not being black the greatest.
“Tell you what, Mike, I’ll pay you thirty dollars and I’ll take care of the notary fee.”
“Okay,” he replies, but I can hear the disappointment in his voice. I can see it in his eyes. I feel like a jerk.
“Tell you what. If I get it running I’ll pay you another thirty, ten more than you were asking. I want the bike, but I see some problems with your Aunt Ruby.”
“She ain’t my Aunt Ruby,” he said, crossing himself and then showing me a toothy grin.
“Tell me, how’d you get involved with her in the first place?”
“Well, do you remember Cedric that worked in the Autopilot shop?”
“She’s his aunt,” he says, crossing himself again. “I needed a place to work on this machine. He made a deal with her so I started tearing it down in this shed. Then out of the blue he went TDY to Nome, Alaska. Supposed to be gone ninety days. Next think I know I get a letter from him. He’s headed for the Philippines, permanent change of station. And you know the rest.”
Mike knew a notary in the neighborhood. We went to his house. The notary was comfortable with the title. A few minutes later I owned a Harley K that I wasn’t sure would ever run again.
As we drove back to the base I recalled the old adage: “a fool and his money are soon parted.”