Seven years is a long time, even in a place as loose as Costa Rica. With new lines carved deep into his face, Nicholas was ready to return home. Once his name had been cleared and the drama lost momentum, it was finally time. With the island fever of self-imposed exile reaching its limits, there was one thing--well maybe two--on this man's mind. One was a lost cause. Word on the street had it Amanda was shacked up in Laredo with two crumbsnatchers sired by none other than Juan Carlos Felix Gonzales himself. The other was that fucking panhead.

Uncle Will was an asshole by anyone's account, but at one time he had been a hero, at least in the eyes of young Nicky. His tenth birthday hadn't been much. A backyard surrounded by waist-high chain link, crabgrass rarely watered, and a shitty piñata in the likeness of the Pink Panther. Nick's mom was pissed when the derelict uncle Will and a few bros showed up. Half-loaded, dirty and making a racket on their pieced-together motorbikes, they made the few parents who had gathered for the occasion uncomfortable, even in this hardscrabble town. It was 1977. Nick's job was picking up dog shit in the scraggly back yard each day, and the morning after his birthday he stood with his shovel, surveying his worksite. Ever diligent, he couldn't complete his task with Uncle Will's crew spread out underneath the avocado tree and beside the garage.

Fingering the engraved buck knife his wayward uncle had given him as a present, the boy walked around the shaded lot careful not to disturb a single hairy, bearded beast. In the far corner laid his uncle. His head rested on a rolled up leather jacket, worn from the years on the road since 'Nam and Nicholas could see the polished .45 automatic pistol sticking out from the folds of the homemade pillow. Next to uncle Will was his bike. A panhead, lil' Nick knew that much. The bike was dirty but underneath the grime even a young sap could tell it was mostly polished or chromed. Obviously valuable, the bike was chained to the house's water meter. Even in his pill-induced stupor, old Will took care of his pan. Hanging on a loop of his crusty jeans was a wad of keys on a brass snap ring. One of those keys fits that bike, Nick thought. Looking down at the Buck in his hand, the boy contemplated his future, and that of his uncle. "Niiiiccckkkyyy!!!" his mom bellowed. "Take care of them dogs!" she followed up. Uncle Will started to rustle and Nicolas shuffled off to feed the mutts. 

1987 comes around and young Nicholas blasts around town on an old chopped out XL, raising hell and giving his mother fits. Uncle Will has been in the joint for half a decade, the fate of his chromed-out panhead long forgotten. Shasta from the bar down on 7th says it's behind Cristal's house, but Cristal ain't talking and ol' Nick's got bigger fish to fry. The club isn't talking about it. "Fuck that old man and his panhead" he tells himself, "I'm gonna build me a badass shovel". And he did. But things change eventually and young Nicholas ain't so young anymore and that pan starts burning a hole in his soul. Now, Nick has got himself in some trouble and needs to get lost for a while so he heads south. The year 2003 isn't very significant to most, but that's when Will died of lung cancer and Nick decided to jump bail and haul ass. Costa Rica doesn't have an extradition law, so it seemed a fine place to lay low. Going native, our outlaw was stuck riding 250cc and lighter import motorbikes, swallowing his pride and getting his knees in the breeze however he could. 

Once back home in Texas and the "incident" behind him, the hunt for Uncle Will's old bike began in earnest. None of the same people seem to be around, and most of Will's old clubbers were dead or gone. Finally, an old friend of Nick's mom volunteered that Lefty from the club might have some of Will's old stuff stashed at his compound. On the way out to Lefty's, Nick had five grand in one pocket and a snub nose .38 in the other. Lefty was a weird cat, and it was doubtful he'd remember Nick. Maroon sweatpants, velcro shoes and crooked old horn-rimmed safety glasses made the old man look cartoonish and way less threatening than the memories of an impressionable young boy. It took some work to convince the old codger that Nick was Will's nephew, but eventually he succeeded and was let in through the chain link fence that surrounded the half-acre junkyard Lefty called home.

Why he kept the motorcycle after all those years was anyone's guess. Perhaps he thought he'd get it running again and ride it around town, or maybe he thought it would be worth more than it really was. The two men had to sort through stacks of magazines, old camping equipment, numerous Sportster frames and a mostly disassembled Toyota FJ-40 just to get a peek at where Lefty thought the bike was. Lefty was right-handed. He got his nickname from his politics. That didn't matter much to Nick; what mattered was getting his hands on that rotting hulk beneath the flannel sheet that looked like something that used to be a chopper. When Will went away the last time, Lefty had taken the pan and sworn to keep it tuned and ready to go when the owner was free to ride again. Somewhere around Tucson the transmission went into fourth, and 25 years later it's still jammed in top gear. 

After moving some junk and listening to too many of Lefty's rambling stories, Nick cleared a path to the machine and threw back the cover. Under years of road grime, topped with decades of dust, rat shit and cobwebs, the abandoned dream stood proud. Sure, a few things had gone missing over the years and all the chrome was now crusty, but the bones were there. This was the bike Nick remembered contemplating murder over a day after his tenth birthday. He could have easily stabbed the old crackpot in the neck and wheeled the bike out to his truck, but after being gone for so long, and so recently, that idea seemed like a bad one. Instead Nick and Lefty pulled the bike out, the rear wheel bearings frozen so that Nick had to pick up the ass end and move it a foot or two at a time. In its decrepit condition in the harsh Texas sunlight, Nick's uncle's bike was a monument to a life lived hard. How many runs had this thing been to? How many miles with a bed roll strapped to that homemade sissy bar? How many bad trips and bad memories erased by this chrome time machine? 

Nick finally gathered the courage to ask Lefty what he wanted for the panhead. He was shocked when the old fart told him that he'd like to see the bike stay in the family rather than go to some asshole on the internet, and to make him an offer he couldn't refuse. As long as Nick agreed not to change any significant parts on the bike and keep it looking identical to Uncle Will's original idea, he could just take it. Like, free. Nick's head spun with Lefty's words. With all that extra dough stashed in his pocket Nick could surely go through the engine, fix that tranny and anything else the bike might need.

Wheeling the bike out to load it in Nick's truck the old man dropped to his knees and grabbed Nick by the leg. Struggling to break free from the obviously insane Lefty, Nick almost dropped the panhead right there in the driveway. He finally had to stop as the toothless has-been continued to pull his leg.

... just like I've been pulling yours.



Photos by Christian at Coalition Imagery

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Comment with Chopcult (32)

Commented on 3-29-2010 At 05:53 am

Fucker!!! heheheheheh!

Commented on 3-29-2010 At 06:35 am

Just because it ain't true doesn't mean it ain't a good story.

I remember lusting over my uncle's long Honda 750 chop parked and forgotten in the back of a dirt floor quoset hut. I think my other uncle eventually cut it up into a four wheel mud buggy.

Commented on 3-29-2010 At 06:41 am

Boy, someone paid attention in their creative writing class!

Who says good fabrication skills don't extend from iron and steel to the written word?

Commented on 3-29-2010 At 06:44 am

Good story. Might not have been you uncle's bike but I bet it was someone's uncles bike. And I'd bet it wasn't far from the truth either. Nice bike and a great save.

Commented on 3-29-2010 At 07:05 am

shit I ruined it for myself, I read the end first haha

Commented on 3-29-2010 At 07:39 am

Russ T. Patina RULES

Commented on 3-29-2010 At 08:09 am

DAMMIT MAN!!! great read though.

Commented on 3-29-2010 At 08:57 am

Hah!Story's believable man.I had a couple of uncles with chops worth killing for!

Commented on 3-29-2010 At 09:26 am

Hell most old panhead chops are worth killin for... who says it hasn't actually happened like that?!?

Commented on 3-29-2010 At 10:01 am

Ha ha. Great story. I see a book in your future. Hell I'd buy it. As for the reason we are all here; That bike is awesome. I love the paint over the chrome tank, but then again I am one of the few who still love chrome. Great story, great ride.

Commented on 3-29-2010 At 10:20 am

I was going thru the blog author list yesterday thinking to myself "who the fuck is running around with the code name Russ T. Patina"?

Commented on 3-29-2010 At 11:23 am

Got me!
Great story, and a beautiful bike!

Commented on 3-29-2010 At 11:54 am

That was fuckin great...thanks man.

Commented on 3-29-2010 At 02:28 pm

great story. great bike.

Commented on 3-29-2010 At 03:04 pm

Great read, great bike too

Commented on 3-29-2010 At 03:15 pm

fuck you hahahahaha it was such a cool story why couldnt it have been true

Commented on 3-29-2010 At 03:16 pm

fuck you hahahahaha it was such a cool story why couldnt it have been true

Commented on 3-29-2010 At 03:38 pm

Man, I thought you were going to blow up a bridge or something... nice bike by the way...

Commented on 3-29-2010 At 05:03 pm

rad bike. fun story

Commented on 3-29-2010 At 06:11 pm

Cool story. one way or the other!

Commented on 3-29-2010 At 06:54 pm

Now that was a great story Russ T. Loved the ending too. I think we will all be looking forward to your next one.


Commented on 3-29-2010 At 07:14 pm

Great story!

Commented on 3-29-2010 At 08:10 pm

great story !

Commented on 3-29-2010 At 09:06 pm

asshole. HAHAH

Commented on 3-29-2010 At 09:24 pm

killer. Chrome tanks! Crazy.

Commented on 3-30-2010 At 12:12 am

kool !! love a good yarn !!!!

Commented on 3-30-2010 At 05:06 am

Cool story, had me going!! Nice looking ride.

Commented on 3-30-2010 At 05:21 am

Good story, I read it all the way thru before looking at the photos. That's a sign of a good story for me. R

Commented on 3-30-2010 At 08:21 pm

good story...good because even though it was fake...def could be real...beautiful pan!

Commented on 3-31-2010 At 03:59 am

Great writing. Had me caught up in it. Thanks and cool bike. C

Commented on 4-4-2010 At 06:09 pm

reminds me of the old days. those were the best in my recollection. Of course memories are often sweeter than reality! But a damn fine article and putt. My hats off to you

Commented on 10-22-2014 At 10:44 pm

Oy vey! What a way to kill some time... I'm in the process of rebuilding a shovel that I inherited from a late friend. Not quite the same story but similar kinda

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