Tales of a Traveling Airbrush

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Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Wheels Through Time

Wheels Through Time

As I look into the future and review how much has changed in my life for the better, I remain open minded about all options. Last autumn, on an exploratory mission through the Carolinas, while entertaining the idea of finding a friendly place to set up shop, perhaps for extended periods of time, I found myself drawn to the Smoky Mountains. After all, the mountains are a destination for bikers. Among the places discovered was a museum in Maggie Valley called Wheels through Time. I had written the owner several years ago in regard to donating my dad’s WWII motorcycle kidney belt and a great photo of him on his Harley, but had never heard anything back. Not knowing what kind of reception to expect, I parked the rig up the street in a quiet place and walked down the road and over the bridge to the motorcycle museum.
            Next to a loud, flowing mountain stream, built against a tree covered mountainside that goes straight up, is a large metal building the size of a football field with a glass foyer attached, filled with motorcycles, artifacts and souvenirs. After paying the admission price, and entering the museum proper, I was immediately impressed with the first ancient two wheeled relic in perfect condition on display. The machine was from the era before mass production when teams of talented craftsmen built them one at a time.  The nickel plated components, spoked wheels, brass fittings, braided wires, delicate pinlines and gold leaf décor on this specimen was just the beginning of an optical feast for the senses.
            Aisle after aisle was packed with many other unusual antique motorcycles stacked almost as tight as cordwood. Unusual automobiles, service cars, boxes of related ancillary items, piles of parts for future projects filled all the rest of the available space.  Display cases had stunning collections of memorabilia and the walls were plastered with period advertising that is the result of an obvious love for the genre and years of seeking, restoring, researching and collecting.
            After several hours of marveling at the sights, I took a venture and inquired how I might meet the owner of this museum. Directed to the midst of a clump of admirers, I was delighted to find him very personable. Dale Walksler was in the middle of a group of people that expressed fascination for a particular machine and was acting as a walking library, volunteering anything major or superfluous about motorcycles. Dale would respond to any query with an abundance of specific information and often times climb on the machine to demonstrate the start up sequence, tell a story about motorcycling in the good old days, and get the old motor running so everyone can actually hear it, to establish credibility, usability and functionality with his machines.
            During a lull in the activity, I introduced myself as a pinstripe artist.
He then said, “Let me show you something” and lead me down an aisle of old motorcycles to a very old gray bike with new paint.
            “This is a 1916 Harley that we partially restored” he began in true docent manner, “and the builders’ photos show pinstriping on the frame, the top of the tank and the wheels as being how it was originally decorated.”  He then asked me if I was available to do some work. Delighted with this turn of events, I returned to my rig up the street and brought back the VW bus with my kit inside and pulled up to the service door on the west end of the building.
            The next thing I knew, the bike had been wheeled outside into the light.  I cleaned the residual oil off the entire frame, tank and rims as he retreated to dig through his archives. Soon thereafter, He found the original builders pictures, and returned to where I had set up shop outside to show them to me. After studying the photos and mixing the exact colors of paint and after sketching helpful markings on all the components to guide and insure accuracy, I began the fussy business of making precise lines on the tubes of the frame with plenty of parallel lines, right angles and the box end design elements utilized during that era, and began to duplicate the multiple color design on the top of the tank. Later, spinning the wheel and laying a thin line on either side of both rims proved to be the biggest challenge. While striping, I discovered that the line wanted to wander away from being parallel to the edge of the rim so I had to wipe off several of my attempts.
            The rim project took the greatest part of the rest of the day. I finally recruited a helper to slowly turn the wheel as I painted but was not happy with the results. I finally realized that the wheel was no longer exactly round. That was when I also realized the function of the pinline; to establish and show off the wheel wright’s skill of making an accurate wheel. Being as careful and as appropriate as possible with the out- of-round wheels, finally I had some presentable stripes on these ancient rims.
As the sun was going down, and the crowd had gone away, Dale invited me to bring my rig on the property and plug in for the night. With the crowd gone, the core group that had manned the ticket and souvenir booth, the friendly docents on the floor, the office workers all gathered, in family fashion, around a campfire. This close knit group not only shared his passion for old motorcycles but enjoyed the laid back atmosphere, the easy life, and the leisure each evening after the museum closed.  I was also invited to share the salmon that was roasting. In a rare time of sitting still, Dale sat down and we enjoyed getting to know each other.
The conversation with Dale quickly moved into a heart to heart conversation involving myriad frustrations with family, the political stresses here in this tourist mecca and the community, in which he also disclosed having an anger problem, a topic I have plenty to share about. As he shared his story, I recalled the behavior coming from my family years ago, and how I responded to their less than courteous behavior with anger, something that I regret and have outgrown now.
Among those regrets is my response to the sabotage inflicted by my brother in law for the get-together at my house, orchestrated by my sister. After buying my home near Tampa two decades ago Paula wanted to bring her family of four children and husband to visit prior to an excursion to a baseball game. Their trip from Pensacola would take all day and staying at my home would place them in proximity for the visit to the winter training camp nearby. In order to facilitate their ambition, I had to change my plans, make arrangements to sleep six in my home (also requiring me to move out and sleep in the RV), thaw the yellow tail caught in the Keys for dinner, and leave the painting workshop I was attending in Sarasota early enough to be home in time to greet them when they arrived. At the conclusion of this whirlwind of activity, at the approximate time, I was standing, waiting in the driveway for them. An hour passed. Always thinking of something else to do, I got out the leaf blower to fine tune the appearance of the garden pathways in the front yard. Two hours passed and I began to worry. In an effort to find out what had happened, I finally called my nephew to inquire where they were, and why they were delayed.
“Where are you?” I asked
“We are still at home,” he sheepishly said, “here talk to my dad”
The new voice came on the phone, “We changed our plans,” my brother in law confided.
He then added something worthless, which was typical of his unfeeling, self centeredness; “I meant to call”
This behavior coming from my brother in law was characteristic. He had never been taught courtesy, or to have regard for others and had an insatiable need to be in control all the time. He had never spoken to his wife about what he had told me about their arriving today, so Paula was in the dark.  His wife’s desire to see my place was destroyed and the compromise in my schedule to fit them in was disregarded with his passive aggression.
That family never slept in my house. I didn’t sleep that night either, I was so mad. Instead, I paced the floor filled with rage, ranted and raved like a mad man, insane with a blood vessel popping hatred for his disregard and I cussed like a sailor. All the Key West yellow tail that was thawed out was thrown out.  I never received an apology from anyone. The episode was added to the lengthy tally of discourteous behavior coming from him, and added to the experiences endured as a child, as I watched mean children pick on my older disabled brother and vowed to have as little as possible to do with anyone. I got the message that I was insignificant.  The anger came to the surface again and again every time I thought of him. When a Christmas gift came from my sister, it was thrown into a corner and ignored. My response to her efforts at being friendly was silence. This angry response to someone else’s behavior remained as a major resentment that ate away at my soul until I entered into recovery and healing. 
My experience with unhealthy anger in this realm, and having gone through an “anger management” workshop twice, placed me in a position to be helpful to my new friend.  I began to share with him what I discovered were the underlying causes of being a quick-tempered hothead with a short fuse, and once those discoveries were made, and the dynamic understood - I discovered I had a choice. It was found that my tainted decisions, delusional beliefs, selfish behaviors and inabilities to form a true partnership with another human being all contributed to the angry frustration that had gained a stronghold in my life.
What I learned in anger management was that I kept alive the shame, regret, resentment of the events that had taken place in childhood, and this perverted worship had created a corrosive thread that ran through the tapestry of my life. Discovering my responsibility in keeping anger alive and the self inflicted, contemptuous decision making that took place as a child was the beginning of my emergence from this quagmire.
Somewhere along the line, I had begun to attach importance to being right. With the help of a mentor, one by one, the events that had occurred along the way were looked at, the belief I had associated with it was revealed, a new response was considered and the truth, often times a new concept, built upon something I could not see due to my contempt, was uncovered providing relief, freeing me to discard the old belief, forgive myself and my offender, and embrace the beauty of the gift of this relational transaction with the built in lesson for my growth.
Thank goodness, instead of a knee jerk reaction to life as it occurs, built on unresolved frustrations, I discovered I can stop midstride and compose a new response. The process has been a long one and I am not successful every time (automated business phone portals still make me mad) but today I radiate much more peace when in the proximity of the dysfunction I am related to.
            I discovered that erroneous beliefs compounded by my defiant, self reliance and the inability to allow a new concept to guide me to a more accurate way of thinking had kept me stuck in corrosive beliefs that qualified as pure contempt.
            In recovery. I found others. The willingness to see joy in another, consider what that person had found that brought about the radiance in their persona, the integration of these findings and by responding with an open mind, I began to let something new inside me, and that brought about a new perspective.
            As we talked, I began to relate to how similar we were;  that the energy invested in this enterprise and the focus on acquiring more that resulted in this massive collection was perhaps, just like me; a way to avoid the quandary that was family and the frustrating relationships with others that left me wanting in their wake.
            “Hey, before you go, “he perked up, “there is another bike I want you to look at”
            Without pressing demands on my time, I had the ability to work on another bike. The next day, I wheeled my kit indoors up to the old motordrome Indian on display, paired with its old shipping road crate. The Indian logo on the tank was decrepit and Dale asked me to fix its appearance.
            Sitting there on a bucket, I hand lettered the color mixed to best replicate the ancient gold. Then with the first color complete, the logo received a thin outline of black. Sitting in the midst of the show business memorabilia, a sense of admiration grew for the many personalities, machinery and artifacts used in those productions that had a reverent place to receive honor. The rigors of the specialty, the bally-hoo, noise, thrills and excitement all have a place to be remembered here.   
            Bob, on the museum board, showed up briefly for a meeting with Dale, and was delighted that I was here. He showed me his shovelhead, recently restored, and asked me to letter his road name “quail,” and put a single color pinstripe design in green on the back fender. Back in the workshop, an area not open to the public, where the restorations take place, I moved my portable pinstriping operation into place and handled this creative task.
I disclosed my ambition to these men, of being here in the smokies to possibly find a place to set up for extended periods between events. Dale immediately invited me to set up my booth out front. The next morning as the guests arrived, they saw my pinstriping booth underneath the trees adjacent to the entrance. Soon the parking lot was full again. As usual, I sat in my booth, answered questions and worked on my projects and waited patiently for someone that wanted some decorative work on their bike. 
            During the day, Dale was a dynamo, talking to the many guests about the old motorcycles, taking his dog for a demonstration ride in the old side car machine parked out front, and multitasking with his TV show fans, souvenir hounds and visitors from all over the world.
            In passing, between the many chores and queries that commanded his attention, he mentioned that he wanted to make sure I got paid. As I sat in my booth, I worked on a couple of creative writing tasks, keeping myself busy in between handling queries from curious tourists. The second day of watching throngs arrive and go into the museum, witness the antiques that Dale fires up and rides around the parking lot and enjoying the meditative rhythm of mountain time going through it’s cycle, brought about a realization I already knew on some level, that a tourist area is tough to compete with and thrive in. I began with plans to get closer to my next event and at the end of the day, tore down and made final preparations to begin my trip north in the morning. 
            The final night I was there, a big fancy RV rig from St Louis pulled in to park in the back corner and hang out. This man shared a love for old machines and participated with Dale in cross country rides involving old motorcycles several times. I was invited to accompany the entire entourage and this special guest to a local restaurant that night. The interior of the bar and grill got even louder as tales of what happened on those cross country rides were exchanged between these boisterous men.
The big group at our table was especially fascinated with stories about filming the high speed ride of the antique road rally through all kinds of weather. We heard stories about the documentary filmmakers on special bikes with platforms for high speed camera men, and the maneuvering with daredevil behavior that resulted in incredible close-up footage of rain pelting the goggles of these riders as they rode at the highest speed these old bikes were capable of and the capturing on film of patterns of droplets coming off the wheels and fenders as they rode. The viewer could see the interesting pattern of the spray affected by the ancient aero dynamics and the picturesque scenery of the lengthy ride through several states as these determined old bikers on their even older machines proved their tenacity for truly rigorous riding. The stories finally quieted down and we dispersed from this place to our individual abodes to allow the excitement of the evening to settle down enough to allow sleep to arrive.
            The morning time found me ready to go. Dale was already a dynamo, in the midst of preparing his machinery and people for the new day.
“Dale,” I beckoned, “I’d like to get paid”
“Sure thing,” he responded, stopping mid stride. “How much do I owe you?”
Recognizing him as being a busy man, instead of recounting all the work I had done on the three bikes, I just blurted out the figure.
“Jesus Christ!” his demeanor transformed in an instant.
“You must be fucking crazy,” he shouted out loud; as he moved away from me.
He continued his high-speed pace, adding loud evidence of rage. He directed his voice across the parking lot toward his guest from St Louis coming out of his RV.
“I can’t believe it,” he shouted, “this guy wants several hundred dollars for pinstriping that old bike”
My heart sunk. I was immediately reunited with the emotion of helplessness, feelings of shame, aloneness and frustration originally encountered on the playground as a child as I witnessed the bullies at school picking on my helpless disabled older brother.  Instead of interacting with me about what is appropriate with compensation for my specialty and what was now complete on his fleet, Dale’s temper erupted further and he spouted off to everyone in his employ about my being fucking crazy. 
With my hat in my hand, I watched him rant and rave with the same focused tendency that made him great with old motorbikes. With a deep sorrow that expanded to consume my peripheral, I retreated to coil up my electric cord and get ready to go.
I cranked up the truck, sad but knowing on one hand that this emotional turbulence had nothing to do with me or the services rendered. I guessed the looming marriage of his son, the political stresses of the local business environment, and the inevitable turbulence with his family and other unresolved and unaccepted consequences of his behavior provided the real frustration and I was just the conduit for an eruption. My rig threaded its way across the bridge and onto the highway that left Maggie Valley and as I left that situation and my host of confusing extremes – warm reception and cold angry rejection – I saw myself. I had a sudden and clear realization: I saw how I must have appeared to my sister years ago in my anger at her husband’s behavior.
I hadn’t communicated to my sister in years, ever since the display of inconsideration and no follow-up from my brother in law. As I recall my response - my anger to the hurtful behavior I had received - and then followed by becoming silent, I realize the message I sent to my sister. My silence announced; “I do not care,” “I do not love you,” “my plans are more important than you,” and  “You are not important.”
Working with my mentor with these revelations, when he asked about the love I have for my sister, I broke into tears. Of course I love my sister, she was my first friend. I allowed someone else’s behavior to interfere with the regard I have. As the truth about what I learned expands to replace the devastation of the recent rejection coming from Dale, I began to look at this man with compassion, honor what he does right and begin to hope that somehow, I can arrive at peace with the rest.
What I must do is clear to me now. Instead of having to be “right,” I can choose to be happy.  Inconsistent treatment coming from others is certainly revealing, and an inappropriate focus on this quirk is sure to interfere with true happiness. Priority for me is to go find a place to be happy and productive where I also receive honorable treatment from others. Turning away from resentment for the disregard received will give me a chance to be restored to a healthy frame of mind and appreciation for what I have.
Sometimes it‘s a mystery, why particular events occur in our lives with no good reason for the upheaval and the chapter closes. Left in the void of not reacting with anger, I remain open to consider my value and how this episode may prepare me for another aspect of my life. Even the end can qualify as a new beginning.
The spark of divine is within us all. The excursion of discovery did not provide what I was originally seeking but I discovered something regardless. My response to your behavior is an indication of my spiritual condition.
Deeply moved, I enter into an intentional attempt at healing the damage I have done in response to the hurtful behavior coming from my family, with the right timing too.
“Dear Paula…”


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