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Saturday Edition


Trying to Pull His Life Back Together

by K.Randall Ball with illustrations Tim Condor and images from Barry Green

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Chance Hogan’s love, Ling was never the same. After the kidnapping, drugs and abuse she never came around. She contracted a serious case of PTSD. Chance, the grubby biker from San Pedro tried to make her comfortable, but too often the sound of a ship’s massive air horn sent her into an emotional decline.

She finally packed her shit and flew back to China and Chance had the blues, bad. He moved out of San Pedro and rented a small, 4000 square foot, chipped paint, 1950s redwood and stucco industrial building in Wilmington, even closer to the port. Wilmington was considered a little third world country behind Terminal Island Prison and between Long Beach and San Pedro.

The folks in the small town weren’t allowed access to the waterfront, even though they were the most impacted community by Port activities, truck traffic, then the Major of Los Angeles told the homeless to move into Wilmington. Nobody gave a shit about Wilmington or the 90 percent Hispanic population of 53,241 on 9.14 square miles.

He noticed that the small town contained just a couple of Mexican restaurants, a half-dozen bars and one decent coffee shop he frequented. He spent most of his time hiding out in his new shop, tinkering with his stretched Harley chopper, riding to work and training. He kept to himself.

The shop was surrounded by chain link fence, blocked from homeless views by solid tin security slats. The non-descript battleship gray building had one old, galvanized pipe framed, with corrugated steel slats, 36-inch-wide front access door, a security back gate and a 15-foot-wide roll-up door at the rear of the building. It had to be opened manually. The old electric system no longer functioned, and repair guys wanted only to replace it with a new unit for a ridiculous sums. It had an upstairs office/bathroom and Chance made it his home.

He still had his job in Pedro maintaining and captaining power skiffs delivering crews and parts to offshore oil rigs and repair guys to the growing number of ships forced to anchored in the bay. After work he straddled his chopper and rode around the port to Mayas Mexican Restaurant for dinner and a chat with Maria, the voluptuous Hispanic waitress, who started to improve Chance’s knowledge of the Spanish language.

His chopper was his only reliable love. When he fired it up in the morning, I sounded like gratitude, crisp and fresh. He gave thanks for the big V-Twin engine warming behind the shop as he lowered the steel roll-up door. Every sense in the morning reminded him of the new day, from the mist on the harbor, to the sun warming his back as he rumbled west across Wilmington and into San Pedro along Harry Bridges Boulevard. The cadences of his pipes sang a song of freedom and the blessings of the new day.

Missing Ling, feeling lonely and wondering what lay ahead, he returned to his shop after work and the chopper sang the blues in the afternoon traffic, while splitting lanes. It was a darker sound as the sun dipped over the hills forming the Palos Verde Peninsula.

Once inside the shop, he checked his bike over. The sleek chopper represented so much to Chance, the shape of every woman he ever knew, the feeling of accomplishment as he created his own freedom machine. It represented strength, power and resilience. He sat next to it on an old milk crate, while it rested on the elevated steel lift. He closed his eyes and listening to the engine talk to him as it cooled. It soothed him and gave him strength. The motorcycle had plenty to say.

Living in Wilmington held one major benefit, quick access to tools and equipment. He found hand tools laying in the streets after falling off port trucks, tow vehicles, container semis and repair vehicles. Used lathes were cheap, and welding supplies were just a few blocks away. Shortly, his shop started to be completely equipped and supplied.

He found scraps of steel and railroad ties and built a coffee table. He studied the computer for deals on old Harleys. He needed a project, to take his mind off his Ling blues and discovered a 1941 flathead 45 in Salt Lake City for $1,500.

He took his laptop in a leather satchel, over his shoulder and rode to the only coffee shop in Wilmington to kick-off negotiations with the owner. His chopper seemed excited as if it sensed another motorcycle coming to the shop. It barked and lurched along Avalon Boulevard as if in a hurry.

While sipping a rich Tres Leches coffee drink, made with three milks, Chance looked around Hoyas Coffee Shop, the half dozen plain tables and religious symbols and slogans painted on the wall. Chance had a tough time with religion. Never seemed to do anyone any good. The coffee shop crew and customers were all Hispanic. The girls were cute, young and sprayed with yoga pants so tight, nothing was left to the imagination.

As he drafted an email one afternoon to this Salt Lake rider, he tried to decide whether it was too risky to spend the time and money to fly to Salt Lake to score this old unknown basket case. But he needed something to take his mind off the woman he loved so much.

He heard a motorcycle pull into the asphalt strip mall lot and come to a stop beside the coffee shop. A short rider wearing a long leather trench coat dismounted from a five-year-old Ninja and started to remove a battered full-face helmet and long black leather gauntlet gloves. The back of the bike was piled high with what looked like dirty laundry over bulging saddlebags, held in place with a stringy, black, spider web bungie system.

The short gray-haired rider with jagged teeth opened the trench coat to reveal a severely wrinkled, colorful Hawaiian shirt and pulled out a pack of Canadian cigarettes and lit one. He smoked as he prepped to enter the coffee shop, taking off his gloves and trench coat and securing his helmet under his webbed bungie system.

He wore denims stuffed inside flopping unlaced leather motorcycle racing boots. He finished his cigarette and pushed in the door to the coffee shop and strolled past Chance to reach the counter. Chance couldn’t help but to notice the unkept smell of someone who missed a shower or two, sorta like a sweaty gym locker room before the cleaning crew arrived.

Chance went back to his computer while the rider stood in line a couple of feet away.

“Is that your chopper,” Rudy asked Chance and introduced himself.

“Yep,” That’s mine.
“Never rode a chopper,” Rudy continued. “I’m a road racer, was a Champion once.”
?“Cool,” Chance said. “Have a seat.”

Rudy sat down with his hot tea and fruit tart, but before he could enjoy it, he had to excuse himself to depart the shop and have another strong Canadian cigarette.

Rudy talked about his flat earth beliefs through missing teeth and bad BO. Chance listened to his road racing exploits and his desire to set a land speed record with his Ninja. Another cigarette run was called for and Chance packed up his computer for the ride back to his shop. They shared phone numbers and Chance fired up his long Chopper and rolled south toward the port industrial side of town. The chopper coughed once as if questioning the other rider.

Chance continued to negotiate with the old rider in Salt Lake. One issue was the lack of a truck, or he would have driven to Salt Lake 750 miles away and loaded it up. He kept pondering the notion and thought about what the hell he would do with one of the most common old Harley twins. Zillions of 45 flatheads were built from 1929 until about 1972, when still being used as police parking enforcement trikes or servi-cars.

It wasn’t as if he was about to purchase a rare Harley basket case. It wasn’t complete in any sense of the word. But Rudy inspired him to look at World Land Speed Records held in the 45 or 750 cc vintage class. There were several, but not much over 100 mph. He was motivated to build something cool for the Salt Flats.

A few days passed and Chance had another encounter with the sailboat live-aboard canyon racer at the coffee shop and more racing success stories.

Saturday morning Chance’s cell phone rang, which didn’t happen anymore. He looked at the number and didn’t recognize it but decided to give it a shot. “Chance, the gravelly voice muttered over the phone. “What are you doing tonight?”

“Nothing,” Chance said while curling dumbbells and sitting on the edge of his black workout bench.

“I’ll buy you dinner at the club by my Marina, if you’re interested,” Rudy said and seemed anxious.

“What’s up?” Chance asked.

“There’s a retired military jackass and he threatened me last night,” Rudy said sorta shaken. “Could you be there?”

Chance thought for a second, “Sure, why not.”

Rudy gave him directions into a deeper, dank portion of the Port of Los Angeles alongside the Henry Ford Bridge containing a train trestle to Terminal Island and a new overhaul of the existing bridge, which seemed like it would never be completed. This long dragstrip like road dipped alongside the bridges down and almost to the water’s edge at the channel between the mainland and the small island housing the federal prison.

The street stopped at the bottom and then turned abruptly right at the base and skirted along several dilapidated marinas leased to operators by the Port. The port authority didn’t want anything to do with public boating marinas and discouraged their existence at every opportunity. They wanted more lucrative container terminals, so marina leases were shortened, leaving longtime operators nervous and unlikely to make significant repairs.

Chance took the chance to light up his Chopper in a high-speed run to the bottom of the road listening intently to the reverberation of the loud exhaust against the concrete wall supporting several train trestles. He slid to a stop at the bottom of the straight run, turned right and rumbled along the marinas.

The owners of one facility passed away recently and the kids immediately bankrupted the joint. The slips were run down and empty, and this unit housed the only boat launch ramp left in the port. The port immediately shut it down and made alternative plans, although there was a law that California ports are supposed to afford 20 percent of port lands to public use or access.

Chance motored along the channel and the marinas until he reached a junction on the land mass, and more marinas were on his right. He revved his V-twin and leaned right but kept it slow. There were only a couple of marinas and finally California Yacht Haven, the last one. He was forced to park his bike outside the gated facility, slip through the gate when another patron arrived and make his way past palm trees and through an asphalt parking lot to a floating bar and restaurant in the center of this marina.

Chance the 6’2” lone wolf, biker knew no one but needed to get out. He sailed as a young man and recently traversed almost around the world on tramp freighters. He had some familiarity with ports and cargo ships. Looking around at massive car ships, container ships and operating cranes buzzing and screeching back and forth with containers wasn't unfamiliar, but gave him a chill with memories of Ling.

He wore his biker shit, dark, stained brown leather boots, faded denims, a brown worn leather belt and his signature brass wheel buckle, a t-shirt, flannel and his brown leather vest that had been through hell and back.

Wilmington marinas were smack in the center of the industrial port, nothing posh about the area surrounded by train trestles, cranking oil wells, screeching cranes and 18-wheelers. To a grubby biker this was the shit, the real world behind the glitter, plastic marketing wraps and franchise facades. These ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles delivered over 60 percent of all the goods coming into America. Shit was happening 24/7, and these rubber, wood and dusty marinas stood in the way.

As he approached the floating houseboat turned bar and restaurant he started to take in the patrons, a grubby lot of drunken men wearing thread-bare Hawaiian shirts, t-shirts, shorts, and mostly denims. No one looked wealthy, but a few had the appearance of bearded Hemingway’s drinking themselves into oblivion. These marinas were interesting and the folks more laid back than high-dollar yacht club members.

The small bar stuffed into the corner of the houseboat poured stout drinks and very few kids attended the gathering. Most women looked like party girls with little to lose and only the desire for the next party on their minds. A few sized-up Chance approaching with his long, sandy ponytail and goatee. He looked too in shape for their liking.

He started down the ramp and noticed Rudy leaning against the white wooden railing with a rum and coke in one hand and smoking a Canadian cigarette. He wore another tattered, crumpled Hawaiian shirt, his long, torn leather trench coat and his signature black leather unlaced riding boots that flapped like something out of a pirate movie.

When Rudy spotted the tall fit biker approaching, he looked up, smiled and immediately lit another Canadian cigarette. Chance didn’t feel fit and strong. He felt drawn and emotionally drained. He forced himself to rock his broad shoulders back and give off a semblance of confidence. He didn’t want to be on the ramp heading into a herd of strange folks on a dock, but he knew he needed social interaction. He didn’t want to be around anyone, but it was time.

As he walked directly down the ramp his eyes moved from one boating character to another, sizing them up. Rudy started to fill in the blanks as soon as they met. “Let me get you a drink,” Rudy said.

“Jack Daniels on the rocks,” said Chance. “Just one. I’m on duty, right.”

Chance had to stay alert, no matter what happened. He had one major card against him. He was the new guy, the loner and a biker. He had only one shaky alliance, Rudy, and he didn’t know much about him or his true history in the area. It could be a trap, a test, or bullshit.

The sun set in the west and the crimson hues mixed with the white clouds and fading blue sky. Sailboat masts rocked gently in the slips and the sounds of mast stays mixed with the industrial noises from the port. The almost smooth waters reflected the warmth from the sky.

Chance thought about the glorious sunsets at sea and his Ling. He was overcome by grief for a second, when Rudy nudged him, and handed Chance a heavy-handed Jack on the rocks.

“That’s him,” Rudy said indicating a gruff looking, but short man wearing a mixture of camo stuff and khaki. His stature was fit, but his face contorted and puffy. He was drunk and held the nature of an angry drunk. He stormed in the direction of Rudy. “Did you bring back-up,” he slurred at Rudy and glared at Chance.

“Doesn’t look like he’ll need any,” Chance said, set his tumbler of whiskey on the railing and his green eyes glared back at the much shorter man. The angry, violent, short-guy syndrome was written all over his face and it contorted into a snarl as he spun to face Chance and made a violent move with a punch from his right hand.

Chance moved closer and caught the flailing right arm under his bicep and lifted the man in a spinning motion completely off balance. He spun, and with Chance’s help, stumbled and fell flat on his face against the rough wooden dock planks. Out of nowhere two larger men picked him up under his arm pits and drug him away.

“Thanks,” a curly blondish-haired man approached holding a small dachshund dog in his arms like a baby, cradling it with one arm and petting its petite head with his other hand. “This is Dave the Commodore,” Rudy said.

Dave shook Chance’s hand heartedly. “He’s needed someone to slap him down for a long time,” Dave said and smiled broadly. “Can I buy you guys dinner?”

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