Shovelhead Red - The Drifter's WayBy: Roy Yelverton
Red spent six years of his life in the U.S. Navy, where he learned his trade. The Navy turns out the best machinists in the country, and Red is a master; trained in an organization that forces one to do so much with so little, one learns to do anything with nothing. As a result of his background, Red is trained to operate lathes, mills, bullard, and the like. But he is also a master welder, and fabricator, and a veritable wonder when it comes to mechanical improvisation. Unlike some tradesmen, who hoard their knowledge as a part of job protection, Red is an excellent teacher, always willing to help anyone who wanted to learn. He’d been working with an apprentice for the past three months. Julio, a twenty-four year old Mexican-American with an insatiable interest for the work. Through diligence more than education, the man had proven an excellent study. Julio was setting up a job when Red entered the shop.
“ ‘Jo jefe.” Julio insisted on calling Red ‘jefe’, the Spanish word for ‘boss’. At twenty-four, he had a mild case of hero worship for Red. Like many young men, and much of society in general, Julio harbored a fascination for what he thought of as ‘Harley People’. This semi-adulation was based on his respect for Red’s talents as a machinist, and fueled by the fact that to Julio, Red was a biker. It never occurred to Julio that Red was really just a guy who rode a Harley. To the apprentice, you ride a Harley; you’re a biker.
Truth was, if asked, Red probably would not have defined himself as a quote: ‘biker.’ That term belonged to the people he often saw flying down the left-lane two abreast, or some lone scooter pilot loaded for the longride. Red felt he loved riding as much as the next guy, but he considered himself a working stiff, part of the great unwashed, as it were.
None of this mattered to Julio, he realized he was lucky to have such a teacher, and the two men had formed a rapid and growing friendship.
“Aw man Red, ‘ju rode ju scooter in th’ rain? ‘Jo ol’ lady would’n een’ give ‘ju a ride man? That ‘chit is cold bro! ‘Ju need to trade that chick in for a Latino woman homes. Them bitches respects they men.”
“Yeah, tits are a major blessing to the person who gets ‘em. No question about it. But, they got th’ pussy..an’ it’s good. So…anyway prospect, have ya got that gear job set up?“
“Ready to roll, jefe.” Julio flashed a grin. He liked it when Red called him ‘prospect’.
“Right on,” Red said, “les’ go see how smart a beaner ya are.”
After checking Julio’s setup on the part he was making, Red manned his lathe and began his own project. The two men worked on respective tasks through the morning, with little opportunity for socializing. At lunchtime, they called out for sandwiches to be delivered to the shop break room.
“That gear looks good so far.” Red said, pulling a metal folding chair up to the table. “The man that can make a gear can make a livin’. Looks like ya been studyin’ yer formulas.”
“’Jeah,” Julio whined, “ but I still don’ unnerstan’ why I gotta learn that ‘chit when the macheen’ awready got a computer ta just feed in th’ specs.”
“Cause ya might not always work in such a sweet shop. What happens if they send ya back to Mexico? Ha-ha-ha, ..jus’ kiddin’. Sure, modern machines are easier, but the key is ta learn yer shit the old way, then ya got somepin’ to sell wherever ya go. Remember what I tol’ ya; learn to do anything with nothin’. Versatility is the best friend a tradesman can have, an’ its damn good job insurance in the bargain.”
“But how come I cain’ jis’ ‘juse a ca’culator jefe? Hey bro I’m a beaner, we ain’t good at math. Jeez, dawn ‘ju watch TV?”
“Same answer bro; Versatility. Them fuckin’ calculators are the work of th’ devil anyhow. What happens the day some klutz accidentally parks his fat ass on yer calculator, or knocks a cuppa coffee over on th’ sumbitch; with fuckin’ sugar in at that; an’ that very mornin’ ya get a big bucks job? Ya get left that’s what. I tole ya at the start, when I take on a man to train, I train him or run him off; an’ since yer still here...?” Red paused; “See, Julio, that’s what us honkeys call a backhanded compliment, in case it went over yer head. Ha-ha-ha!” Red laughed at his own joke.
“Who am I talkin’ to? Grampa fuckin’ Walton over ‘chere?”
“Hah-hah-hah”, Red laughed explosively,..”Granpa Walton. That’s good Julio; I though ya said brownbodies are slow.”
“Up ‘jurs scooter trash!” Julio threw a fake punch at his buddy. The two went on like this most of the time they weren’t working. If yer a female reader, I know, I know, it’s stupid, but hey, it’s a guy thing.
As the boys were cleaning up the sandwich wrappers, and preparing to get into their afternoon tasks, the intercom speaker mounted on the wall crackled. A voice, made metallic by the low-bucks public address system intoned; “Red and Julio, please come to the office.” It sounded exactly like the intercom from his days in the orphanage. Red chuckled in his mind, remembering all the ass whippins’ that followed hearing his name on the intercom.
Entering the office, Red and Julio found Jim Yablonski, the shop owner sitting at his desk, with both elbows planted on the desktop. His mood was clearly strained; he didn’t mince words; “Boys, we’re all grown men here, so I ain’t going to sugar coat th’ facts. There’s just not enough work comin’ in. It’s the curse of the small bidness man; never having enough capital to weather the slow times. So I gotta lay somebody off for a few weeks, hopefully no more than six, but I can’t even promise ya that. Red you have the talent, so by rights, if I keep ya, I gotta pay you more. Sanchez is green, but you’ve already got him off to a hell of a start, an’ I can get him for less money. I’ll go either way; you boys are buddies and partners; you’re gonna call this one yourselves.”
Without hesitation, Red said; “Sanchez has a family to feed. I only got a lazy wife to worry about, but at least her parents are rich. Anyway, I can always find work. Julio here has a lot of potential; he’ll do ya a good job boss.”
“Damn Red,” Julio said, “I cain’ let ‘ju do that man! If it wasn’t for ‘ju, I wouldn’ know ‘chit. No way I’m takin’ ‘jure job bro!”
Red looked at the younger man, seeing the relief that no actor could have concealed, he knew Julio’s protests were hollow, in spite of his attempt at sincerity. Two years earlier Julio’s father and his car, had been in the wrong place and time, when a drunken crack head decided just one more rock would put his head right where he wanted it. Trouble was, his dealer lived five miles away. At the trial, the suspect testified that he had been up for five days and was suffering sleep deprivation that engendered overpowering paranoia. He said he thought Eduardo Sanchez’ car was two motorcycle CHIPS types ridin’ side by each. He said a voice from the car radio told him to ride between the two headlights. It was an effective insanity plea. The drunk got rehab, six months in a funny farm, and three years house arrest. Eduardo Sanchez, a taxpayer who couldn’t afford insurance, got dead; his family got a bill for his funeral. Julio got to experience life as a breadwinner for his younger brother, sister, and widowed mother. All in all, the affair turned out to be a shining example of American justice.
If anyone can relate to life without parents, its Red. He is the product of a hippie coupling whose parents left him on the steps of an orphanage. Apparently they had shit to do. By all evidence, his mother dug ‘Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels’, a rock band from the late sixties. She named her unwanted son ‘Mitch Ryder’. It was the only information she left when he was dropped off. The color of his hair guaranteed that no one would ever call him Mitch, but how does a kid live with a name like ‘Red Ryder’? He got sick of hearing “oh yeah, so where is yer BB gun, an’ little beaver?” And an assortment of similar quips that seemed questionable at best. So by the time he was ten years old, he never told anyone his last name. He became simply ‘Red’. Hey it worked for ‘Cher’, and ‘Prince’. Who the hell made Prince a Prince anyway? What country is he Prince of? Is his daddy a king? Doesn’t he know the constitution prohibits titles of royalty? But I digress. What I’m tellin’ ya’ll is, the boy only has one name. Got it!?
Red said; “Shit Julio, get real, you got folk to feed dude. Anyway, summer is comin’; I’d rather draw unemployment and ride muh Harley, than work. Jesus, don’t ya know nothin’ about bikers? Boss, ya been a good man ta work for, if things pick up, I’d be proud to work for ya again.” Red reached across the desk to shake his now ex-boss’ hand.
“Red, if ya decide to change shops, I’ll understan’ and y’know ya can have any reference ya need from me son. You’re a special sumbitch when you team up with a mill or lathe. If bidness changes, an’ ya ain’t workin’ somewhere else, I’d love to have ya back. Good luck.” With this he pumped Red’s hand, genuinely sorry for what necessity had forced him to do.
Julio followed Red out to the parking lot as he unlocked the bike. There was a mildly strained air between the two due to the situation. Red couldn’t think of much to say. “Good workin’ with ya man,” he said, lightly cuffing Julio’s shoulder. “Stay with it down here, ‘n don’t ruin that gear this afternoon. You got any questions, or ya need any advice; ya got my number. Or swing by the house. I’m gonna have a lotta free time.”
“Man Red, I don’ know what ta say. How do ‘ju thank a man for givin’ ‘ju ‘jure livin? ‘ Ju are one stand up dude.”
“Hey Julio, it ain’t that big a deal bro. Did I mention that you damn Latinos tend ta be a little melodramatic? Anyway, we’re friends, how else would I act. Who knows, I might need a favor one day.”
“Anythin’ my man, an’ I mean that chit straight up Red. Anythin’, anytime bro. Mi casa es Su casa. That’s a Spanish thing.”
“Yeah, I know. I speak the language;..remember.” Red touched the starter and the big engine sprang to life. He blipped the throttle a couple times, and turned to Julio: “Hasta la bye-bye beaner, keep in touch.” He gripped Julio’s outstretched hand, biker style. The two men gazed into each other’s eyes, and both understood. Red stomped the shifter into first, looked up at the now blue sky, and spoke above the noise; “Well, I don’t have to ride home in the rain, so it can’t be a completely shitty day.” He couldn’t have been more wrong.
Read Chapter 1
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