Weed really liked anything with a motor, and loved wheeling and dealing. He would trade you the shirt off his mom’s back if it benefitted him. His swapping and horse trading had resulted in a shed full of junk; dirtbikes, motorcycles and car parts filled the tiny building, all of which he planned on restoring one day.
“This? This is your solution?” I asked as soon as Weed pulled off the cover.
“Yeah; Isn’t it great?” he asked as we stood inside a small shed at the back of his property.
Weed and I shared taste in women, music and even most cars but apparently not everything.
“Great, awesome, magnificent. Whatever word floats your boat.”
“How about POS?”
“What? This is a vintage, 1978 Kawasaki KZ650. It’s a classic.”
“It’s a rusty hunk of junk.”
“Maybe to the untrained eye, but check this out.”
With a turn of the key the headlight lit up, and with one kick the bike started up, even if it was spitting and sputtering black smoke while idling erratically. I couldn’t stop myself from laughing.
“Okay,” Weed said, “so maybe she needs a little TLC, but she’s a good project for you; I mean she’s been sitting forever and still started right up.”
“And it would mean I don’t have to ride that bus any more…”
“Right,” he agreed, “and it’ll just be until we can get Pamela back to normal.”
“Okay, but how am I going to tell my mom?”
“I’ll help you with that; your mom loves me.”
“Maybe, until you tell her you’re the reason I’m going to die in a fiery crash.”
“You’ve got a point. You’re on your own.”
“Too late to back out now,” I said, surprisingly excited about the prospect of having a motorcycle to ride to school instead of the bus.
“We haven’t shook on it.”
“Fine, $150 and you tell her about the bike, $125 and I’m stuck trying to figure out how to tell her. Either way, you help me get this thing roadworthy.”
“$125 it is,” Weed said, shutting the bike off and tossing me the keys before I could change my mind. “And we’ll have her purring like a kitten in no time.”
I liked his optimism, even if I wasn’t so sure about it.
“So where do we start?”
“Crack open your piggy bank,” he said, “it’s time for a trip to the junkyard.”
Fifteen minutes later I found myself riding shotgun in the Weed Wagon, Weed’s vintage Grumman mail truck. But since it was a mail truck, riding shotgun meant sitting where the driver normally would. I had to assume that’s what it would feel like to drive over in the UK, but from where I sat it just felt weird.
All the US postal service decals had been stripped from the truck before Weed bought it but there was no mistaking it for what it was so we always got plenty of strange looks. And it was probably about the furthest thing possible from a chick magnet but it had plenty of room in the back for whatever parts we were going to need; I just hoped it wouldn’t cost every dime I had to get the bike rideable and Pamela back on the road.
“Here we are,” Weed said as we pulled up to a small mobile home in front of a ten foot high privacy fence that surrounded several acres behind it. The giant mounds of metal junk visible over the fence, and the oversized tractor tire half sticking out of the ground with the word “Salvage” painted on it, were the only indication we were parked in front of a business.
“You’re sure this is the place?”
“Absolutely. This guy has everything. Where do you think I got the truck?” He said, proudly as we moved closer to the trailer.
“And he keeps everything in his backyard?”
“Pretty much, so watch what you say; he’s a little sensitive about people calling it a junkyard. He likes to think of himself as a connoisseur so he prefers the term Salvage Yard.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Before Weed had a chance to respond, the front door opened and the mangiest looking mutt came bursting out. We were too close for me to even think as the dog launched itself off the front porch, I just reacted, throwing myself between it and Weed. The dog slammed into my chest, knocking me to the ground and holding me there with the sheer weight of its body. I couldn’t move, and I was sure I was about to be dog food when I felt the cold nose sniffing my face, followed by the warm and wet tongue.
“He likes you,” Weed said while standing over me with a dopey grin on his face.
“I’d hate to see how he treats people he doesn’t like.”
“To be fair, though,” Weed continued, “He was jumping for me and you just got in the way.”
“I won’t make that mistake again.”
“What’re ya doin’ to my dog,” a gruff voice called out from the porch.
“Hey Mr. Finkenbine!” Weed hollered back. The gray haired man on the porch had inch thick glasses that made his eyes look twice as large as normal and an overgrown beard that made him look ancient. But despite his arched back he was still a couple inches taller than me with shoulders twice as wide as mine so he was a bit intimidating. Regardless of his size or gruff manner, though, I felt an almost comfortable connection to him.
“Oh, it’s you,” Finkenbine said as he came closer, “I thought Dumbass there caught whoever’s been stealing my yard globes.”
“Sorry to disappoint you,” Weed replied as I shoved the dog off me and climbed to my feet.
“We’re not after any globes,” I explained, “just a couple motorcycle parts.”
“And we might as well look for some parts for Pamela too,” Weed threw in. And though he was probably right, I wasn’t sure I’d have enough cash to get what we needed for both projects, and as much as I wanted Pamela back in tiptop shape, getting myself mobile for the first day of school was my new priority.
“Well,” Mr Finkenbine replied, “I’ve probably got what you need, even if I don’t know what Pamela is. And Dumbass seems to like you,” he said looking directly at me, “so I guess you can’t be too bad. Why don’t you come on back.”
“Thanks,” Weed said as he headed through a gate beside the house while I followed behind hesitantly.
Beyond the gate, a tunnel was formed from all the scrap lining the narrow walkway. Washers and dryers, microwaves and toaster ovens were stacked on top of cars, motorcycles and various boat parts like some giant lego set. Everything was jammed together practically airtight. The tunnel went on for about thirty feet before opening into a giant field of even more scrap neatly organized into rows and piles that probably made sense, but only to Mr. Finkenbine.
“So what can I help you find,” Mr Finkenbine asked without stopping or even slowing down. Despite his apparent age, the man seemed to have way too much energy, and even though he walked with a slight limp, like his left foot wasn’t working right, I still struggled to keep up with his pace.
“We just need a voltage regulator and a petcock for the ‘78 KZ650,” Weed answered.
“You’re finally fixing up the KZ, huh?”
“Yeah, but not for me. Nate needs a ride, at least until we get Pamela, his ‘77 Pontiac Ventura, back up and running.”
“And what does Pamela need?
“A lot,” Weed said, “but we’ll start with a set of rims and shocks. She’ll also need a new windshield, and probably at least one headlight too.”
“Well I’ve got all of that, except the windshield” Finkenbine replied. “That will take a couple phone calls, and maybe a week to get, but once he gets on the KZ he might not want to go back to Pamela. Not that she’s a bad car, I’m sure she’s not, but once you dance with the prom queen it’s hard to go back to the president of the glee club.”
Weed seemed to catch the befuddled look on my face. “He likes cars, but he’s a bike guy through and through,” Weed explained as Finkenbine moved on. “Rumor has it he was once the president of a Hells Angels chapter.”
I looked at the man leading us deeper into his graveyard of parts, but couldn’t see it. Sure, he had a certain air that would make anyone think twice about messing with him, but so did most grumpy old men, especially one his size.
“I don’t buy it,” I said to Weed, but as the words left my mouth, Finkenbine’s shirt sleeve rode up his arm just enough to show the bottom part of a massive tattoo. I couldn’t swear to it, but it could very easily have been the biker gang’s Death Head logo.
Weed stared back at me with an “I told you so” look on his face. I just shrugged, then followed his lead as we rushed to keep up.
“The bike parts are over here,” Finkenbine said as he reached a pile of scrap. “This regulator should do you,” he continued,”but I don’t have just a petcock. Why don’t you take this whole tank.”
The KZ I bought off of Weed was red and the gas tank Finkenbine handed me was black, but it was in much better shape than the one already on the bike so I really couldn’t complain.
“Now as for Pamela,” Finkenbine said with a mischievous look, ”what’s the story?”
“I had a little accident,” I said, trying to keep Weed from going into too many details. I wasn’t sure why I told him everything I had; I mean, I still wasn’t even sure exactly what had happened, and I definitely didn’t want him repeating the story to anyone, not that he would.
“Drag racing? General recklessness? Or maybe something a little more fun? You try hooking up with a girl while heading down the road? That may look like fun in the movies, but it takes a lot of practice to make it work.”
“Just my general stupidity,” I said. “It was all such a blur; I really don’t remember much about it.”
“I’ve had some of those experiences too,” he replied with a knowing look in his eye. “But you survived, and don’t really look that worse for wear, so learn from your mistake and move on. Getting Pamela back up and running and hopping back in the saddle is a good start.”
Finkenbine kind of let the conversation drop as he led us towards the car parts. I was in awe as we moved through the rows. It must have taken years and years to accumulate that amount of scrap parts, and even more time and effort to organize it. And even though I couldn’t see the method to his madness, Finkenbine knew exactly where to find the parts we needed.
“You said a ‘77, right? He asked. “That’s the last year they called it a Ventura. In ‘78 they started calling all the X-body cars the Phoenix. Your’s has the newer grill and headlights, though, doesn’t it?”
“Um, yeah, I think so,” I replied, trying to sound like I actually knew anything about my own car.
“I’m pretty sure I’ve only got one headlight right now for her,” he said as he reached into one stack and pulled out a perfect match for my missing one, “but I’ve got a few connections and can get you another one if you end up needing it.”
“Thanks,” I said as he moved us further down the row. My arms were getting pretty full with the bike parts and the headlight but Finkenbine pulled out two shocks and piled them on top of everything else I was already carrying. Then he handed two rims to Weed before grabbing the other two rims and the shocks himself.
It wasn’t that any of the parts were particularly heavy but they were awkward, making the trip back out to the gate a bit cumbersome for me. Weed and Finkenbine, on the other hand, seemed to be enjoying my struggle.
By the time we reached the Weed Wagon I was drenched in sweat and my arms were burning from trying to keep everything from falling. Thankfully, they finally gave me a break and started grabbing the parts from my arms and loading them into the back of Weed’s truck.
“How much do I owe you?” I asked, silently praying that the cash in my pocket would cover it.
“I think $130’s a fair price if you promise to bring that KZ over when it’s done so I can check it out.”
“Deal,” I replied, reaching out and shaking his hand before realizing that mine was covered in grease.
He just smiled, wiped his hands on his jeans and accepted the cash without bothering to count it.
“Now the real fun begins,” Weed said as we climbed back into the Weed Wagon.