Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Poorly Principled Principal

 Dealerships are probably the only place that you leave without a two week notice. I know this from experience. You either walk out, or you don’t show up. I remember leaving one dealership in particular where I just left without notice. But I had my reasons. 

Dealerships are a tough environment if you don’t understand the old-school car sales vibe. But even if you do have this understanding, even if you have tough skin, everywhere you go in this industry there is a trying time that arises that may make you want to leave. And boy did I leave. 

When Best Coast Motorsports finally wasn’t worth me wasting my energy on anymore, I left the keys in Gerald’s hands. He had a scheme to save everything which really was just putting liquidity in his family’s hands and not me. He thought I was invested enough in Best Coast still to let this fly. Sadly I didn’t care and I let him sink on his own. The business wasn’t worth anything and thanks to vice making up all my proclivities at the time I was too broke and disheveled to care about suing. I told Gerald I was done and walked out. 

Eventually I ended up cutting my tie at a franchise dealership. I’m not going to say the name of the dealership because it was owned by a pretty large dealer group. Our managing partner was insane. Now most people who’ve been in this business would say dealership principals are all some variation of insane. I know guys that worked for the likes of Louis F. Harrellson, a literal Wild West character stereotype who would curse out dealership employees over the intercom. 

But my principal was well known for not being screwed tight at all. I’ve had managers of his tell me he’d instantly break down sobbing during meals. He also had a penchant for terrifying his employees. Now I’m 6’6” and 450 lbs at this point. This man weighed the same but was a foot shorter than me. Think about an extra overweight Wayne Knight with an extremely sour disposition and a Philly accent. Before I started working there a salesman had a heart attack in the sales tower and he just stepped over him and said:

“Somebody get him off the floor. We have cars to sell.”

He actually took a liking to me when I got there. I think it was because of how unafraid I was of him. He’d insult sales people all day whenever he’d appear out of his office and then retreat home by 4. But the people he put in place to manage underneath him were just as bad. He hired a guy to be his GM who was the GSM of a Volkswagen store, a guy who already had more money than he knew how to deal with. He would park next to me at work in his brand-new Orange Audi R8, or his brand new 911 Turbo S, or his GTI he bought because he needed the extra unit one month. He was a diminutive, abrasive, tyrant with very little patience for mediocrity. 

Well he wasn’t there long before I was pushed over the edge. It was the last day of January and well we sucked. We had ten cars out which was a dismal last day for us. I knew for a fact that we were behind our monthly manufacturer-set number by a large amount of units. We all felt the pressure but by the time 9 PM rolled up on the clock we knew there wasn’t much any of us could do. We all dragged our feet leaving the store talking trash until the last deals left the finance office. Our camaraderie was disrupted when the new car manager strolled through the door and told us the GM wanted all of us in the sales tower. 

We knew what was going down, some level of beration, and a “see you assholes tomorrow.” Instead we got berated and we were told to go back in the office and make phone calls until we got a customer in the door. At this point it was almost 10 PM. A few salesmen stormed out the door and said they weren’t coming back. I didn’t say a word. I just sat at my desk for a few minutes to figure out why I was even there in the first place. 

The next morning I woke up at dawn like normal. I took a look out the window at my demo in the driveway and decided I wasn’t going to work. I didn’t answer my phone for anybody from the dealership for a month wondering where I was. Desperate text messages came but I answered none. It was when they showed up at my house asking about the whereabouts of my demo that I finally came back. And for the last time.

The principal of the store was obviously very offended by all of this. But I didn’t care, a couple of months later I took a higher position at a smaller store and never looked back. I finally moved to the plane most guys older than me in the industry already understood. This industry needs solid people and there is always another opportunity around the corner. 

I eventually walked away from the industry in its entirety, but it all started with me taking the opportunity to walk out. 

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Let Me Ride Part 2

I walked out of the ER with both my parents by my side, a third of my shirt cut away, and a headwrap reminiscent of Erykah Badu’s made of gauze. The image would make a great album cover. I was injured for sure, but I survived without losing anything but some skin and blood. My father and I returned that night to where the Gold Wing was parked. It was scratched a bit, but nowhere near as much as me. We loaded it up on the trailer and took it to my garage. I sat there for an hour staring at the bike. I went to the bar afterwards, and as the bartender stared at my still bleeding head it finally dawned on me: the shop that worked on the Gold Wing robbed me. 

Flashback three months, and me and my father were on a barely residential street in South End rolling the partially-inflated tires of the Gold Wing off the trailer. The owners came and greeted us and helped roll the beast down into their shop full of vintage motorcycles. There were Ducatis, Triumphs, Hondas, and Yamahas of all varying types. There weren’t any Gold Wings, which proved to be ominous later. 

We told them to do any and everything they saw fit to get the bike in as good of running condition as possible. I left a check for two grand to get started and travelled back home. My dad and I kept riding together on the Harley’s week after week, racking up miles together. It was a fun time filled with stories and laughter, both of us getting time away from my mother (which he needed more than me) and enjoying the open roads around NC. Soon, three months had passed and the Gold Wing was still in the shop. Phone calls getting answered every time with informative responses to my questions devolved into a game of phone tag filled with excuses. One day I decided to call from a different number:

“Hello, [REDACTED] Cycles.”

“[REDACTED] is that you?”

“It is.”

“This is Ethan Gaines. I’m just letting you know I’m coming by the shop in an hour to see the progress on my bike.”


“You just answered your own question.”

I showed up at the shop, where the doors were closed and not a single light was on in the place. I called my dad and voiced concern that our bike would never make it out of the shop. The next day I made a more threatening phone call, with some curses and police action involved. I was asked for one more chance, and I obliged, not until reminding them that I had my lawyer waiting to gut them any second. Around a day later I got a call from the shop telling me the bike was ready. 

It was running when I walked down into the shop the next day. It had a light hiccup and a nasty smell coming from the exhaust. They kept running a line about there being a bit of bad gas at the bottom of the tank. That varnish smell still sticks with me every time that bike crosses my mind. 

I was just so happy to see it run under its own power I didn't even care if I was being lied to. I just wanted to ride my grandfather’s bike. The riding position of the big Honda was comfortable, but still wasn't exactly perfect for my gigantic frame. I didn't really care at all though, I just wanted to ride. So ride I did, I took the Gold Wing to do every in-town errand I could. It proved to be a solid fair-weather replacement for most tasks I did with an automobile. The trunk and saddlebags had enough space to contain a small grocery haul or everything you’d need for a weekend trip. The Gold Wing kept showing its usefulness and I kept riding, until the moment I didn’t. 

I really don’t remember exactly what all happened. I was on Milton Road leaving Compare Foods, my limes and various dried peppers in the trunk. I was at a light and goosed the Gold Wing a bit because it started idling erratically. I do remember looking at the ground as I flew over the handlebars and when I landed. Beyond that there isn’t much I can put together. I hit the ground in just a way that my head landed first and rotated my helmet off my head before I slid on the asphalt another 20 feet. I still really don’t exactly know what caused the bike to stop so abruptly that day. I stumbled around trying to get back on the bike but I could barely take five steps before I was on the ground again. Passers-by stopped and kept me on the ground against a nearby tree. 

Soon, I was on the ambulance ride to hospital and it seemed like no time passed before I was walking out with my half cut away shirt and headwrap to my Ford Edge. When we came upon the bike again after dark it started after a little effort, I remember the smell of the varnished fuel coming from the exhaust. It didn't stay alive long enough to ride it onto the trailer. I made it home and hopped on my Harley for fresh air, but my helmet and head dressing didn’t work together. So I hopped in my Subaru Legacy 2.5GT and headed into town.

I took a swig from my beer at my spot right by the corner of the bar at the Diamond Restaurant. I put my ice cold Stella Artois to my head and went into deep reflection about all that was going on. Hours later, I was sitting on the floor in my garage looking at the bike. I walked over to take it apart myself but just ended up back on the floor wincing in pain. 

My dad came to me three days later with the info for a guy named Kevin, who was introduced to him by a friend. Kevin was a mechanic at the local Honda motorcycle dealer for over 15 years who did work on the side if he found the bike interesting. As soon as he heard what I had for him to work on he told me to bring it to him as soon as possible. So I did, and after another trailer ride to Gastonia, the bike was in his hands. This isn’t the end of the story just yet though, there is so much more to tell. 


Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Let Me Ride Part 1

 I’ve been on two wheels on and off since I was a child, it runs in the family really. My dad rode for many years before my mom threatened just existence if he ever rode again. The funny part is her father met the same threat at the hands of his wife. My grandfather being a particularly proud man decided he wouldn’t get rid of his bike ever. So for a decade his 1986 Honda Gold Wing sat in a shed in Landover, Maryland. 

My mother couldn’t threaten me though, and at the time I had finally graduated to cruisers, specifically a Harley-Davidson Road Glide and a Road King. Everytime I rode off into the sun on my bike I could see my dad get the fire back inside of him to ride again. All of his buddies from back in the day who decided to stay divorced were out riding and I knew it would hit him one day. 

Thing was my dad was ready to sit back and ride long distances, but not on a CB750 like he could in the 80’s. Nah he needed something substantial, and that’s when he decided to ask my mom a question:

“Can you ask your dad if I can buy his bike?”

“What the fuck for?”

I chimed in:

“It’s for me really. Just ask him.”

The phone call took five minutes. My mom loved her father, but she couldn’t stand listening to him boast about how happy he always was. He made the answer very clear: if me and my father wanted the Gold Wing, we just had to come pick it up and it was ours. Mind you we live in North Carolina so it was going to be quite the trip. 

But the trip was made. My dad and I packed up the Ford Edge and the 4x8 trailer that we used in many an adventure and set off. It was to be a quick back in forth trip, roughly 450 miles to Landover then into DC to my sister’s house for the night before an early turnaround back to Charlotte. 

My mother didn’t completely understand what was really happening. What did we need with a motorcycle that hadn’t moved in over a decade? We were fulfilling a passing down that should have happened years before but everyone was too dumb to open up and make the idea a reality. Whatever it was we were ready to make it happen so at least it wasn’t too late. 

I joke that me and my dad are basically a modern version of Sanford and Son. Most of our adventures together involved either picking up some type of used item or anything else that would irritate my mother enough not to talk to us for days. 

It was just like any of the other journeys, the trailer gently bounced its way up I-85 behind the radius-shaped SUV. Our conversations were always light in these trips, mostly about how much grief we would receive from my mother when we returned. But this one was mostly about getting my dad back on a motorcycle after so many years. 

We made it to the DC area with no trouble, traffic was light and the trailer didn’t separate from us. We finally pulled up to my grandfather's house after 7 hours rolling on the freeway. It was an enlightening meeting of family and of men. We spoke to each other about our mutual bond of freemasonry as we dug out the bike from the shed. The subject came up initially when I noticed the insignia for the 33rd degree of the Scottish Rite of freemasonry. 

While our fraternal bond was no secret, the condition of the bike definitely was. That was the first time the bike had daylight hit it since it was parked. The paint was a rosy-taupe metallic over a deep metallic brown and the chrome still mostly reflected sunlight. The tires were flat and I realized I was stupid enough to forget an air compressor. So we “rolled” along on the flat, dry-rotted tires until it was outside in the yard. That was a considerable amount of work so I devised a plan: I unhooked the trailer with its tongue jack, ran a chain from the hitch to the front forks of the bike, and made a makeshift 265 horsepower winch. I volunteered to sit on the bike to walk it up onto the trailer as my dad did the job of using the car to gently pull

the 700+ pounds of bike onto the trailer. It went without a hitch. After much work with tie-down straps, the Goldwing was secure.

We retreated with the SUV and trailer to my sister’s house in Northwest DC for the night. Later that evening me and her husband went to their backyard to check out his motorcycles. He led me to two shell covers, one folded back to reveal your standard Harley-Davidson Street Glide in black metallic paint. But under the other cover was something special. 

His father purchased the bike brand-new in 1972, a special bike that had a limited one year only run: the Triumph X-75 Hurricane. The bike was rare for a variety of reasons I don’t need to get into here. But more important than its rarity was the generational value, a father passing along his ride to his son. Giving him the right to follow directly in his footsteps and ride free of any trouble. Well, after it made a trip to the shop. It needed a little love before it could hit the road again.

It was deeply humid at 4:00 AM when me and my father crossed the 14th Street bridge making our exit from DC, we were headed home with the Gold Wing in tow, the trailer rolling smooth with all the weight on board. We were on our journey home, but just beginning our journey with the bike. When we made it back to NC I had a surprise for my dad since I knew it would be a while before the Gold Wing would even be close to rideable. 

The next day I told him to hop in the car with me because I wanted to go check out some random beater that was for sale in Statesville. We actually pulled into Tilley Harley-Davidson to my father’s confusion. Out front was a 2000 Electra Glide Ultra Classic in two-tone red and black. My dad eyed the bike on a previous trip and I bought it behind his back before we picked up the Gold Wing. If I was gonna get him back riding, I was going to do it as soon as possible before he changed his mind. 

This was just the beginning of a much longer story to tell of generations giving to each other. The story is beautiful even though it occasionally brought heartache and physical pain. No matter what it cemented the two generations on two wheels again. 

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Where's the door?

I slammed the brakes on my LS400 so hard the tires slid on the marbled asphalt. I figured I was seeing things, by the time I could reverse the big Lexus 20 feet I could see it was all too real. Someone had removed the entire rear driver’s side door of the 2005 Acura RL I took in on trade for a Range Rover the week before. I threw the car in park and ran inside the showroom. Tom was actually at work that morning, his girlfriend probably ran him out of the house early after catching him getting high again. 

“Dude, someone stole a door off the Acura!”

Tom was on the phone stalling payment to his friend in Jersey for the last shipment of unwanted trade-ins and put his hand over the phone.

“What? This is Tony bro.”

“The RL is missing a door.”

He hung up his phone and did a confused speed walk towards the back line of our lot. And there parked along the tall line of bushes was our now three-door Acura RL. Tom didn't know what to even do cause it was so absurd. I reluctantly called the cops while Tom disappeared into the bathroom, trying to hide the sounds of crushing and snorting with a running faucet. I called Gerald, who I'd assume was asleep and surprisingly received an answer. 

“Why you call me so early? Is the store on fire?”

“No if the store was on fire I'd call your dad, somebody stole a door off that Acura.”

By the time he pulled up, I had the police inside showing them the camera footage. You could see three blurry humanoid shapes flying around the car and disappear through the bushes in a five minute period. One of them managed to take out the grill and disconnect the horn, an effort to keep the alarm from sounding. It was a disaster. 

As Gerald pulled the Acura inside the showroom I didn't even want to think what our insurance was about to do to us. Mind you that year I had already had a car totalled on a dealer plate, and a S550 poached for a mirror. Those turned out to be wins in the end, the BMW totalled for five grand more than it was floored for, and the Benz mirror ended up paying for another repair on it too. 

The Acura wasn't as lucky of an adventure. First, the insurance company didn’t actually believe someone would steal a single door off the car. It took coordination between me, the police who weren’t even pursuing the crime, and the insurance company for them to finally send out someone to do an estimate. You would think that would be simple enough, somebody comes and sees what’s missing or damaged on the car and calls it a day. Well the adjuster got all the part prices together and decided it was repairable. 

That would be okay news any other time but after two months of sitting no OEM or aftermarket door frames appeared. The insurance left us with choices to make, either total the open-to-the-elements RL or accept a cash payment to source parts at our own pace because it wasn’t the insurance company’s concern anymore. I convinced my partners to keep the RL and take the cash payment, mostly because I still wanted to keep it for myself. 

Four months later, I was looking at the inventory of a local Honda junkyard for some parts for a TL Type-S we took on trade, when I saw they had a complete 2005 Acura RL in the exact color combination as ours. I dialled fast, and ten minutes and 850 United States dollars later, there was a whole door assembly; wiring, glass, and all headed my way. 

A week later, I was helping guide the pallet jack with our fresh looking parts through the showroom door. Gerald and I installed everything later that afternoon and I rolled the car outside for the first time in six months. Seeing it in the sun was wonderful, but immediately the same part of me that wanted to take the title out of the file cabinet for myself took pause. I realised that if it took me this long to find a door, the thought of somebody running into it and not finding what I needed to fix it would make me sick. 

Apparently front and rear end panel replacements were easy to find for the car at the time, but for whatever poor stroke of luck at the time I just couldn't find a door. So instead of buying the car myself, I made a quick deal to a wholesaler I knew the next day. It was the right thing to do, besides it opened up space to buy some toys to stare at in the showroom.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Man On A Beach

I'm a man on a beach. 

How I got here I dare not explain in words, yet here I am everyday scribing experience after experience that comes to memory. The thoughts make my heart heavy, yet I continue purely because the experiences somehow have value beyond me. 

I'm a man on a beach.

My transgressions are strong in my memory. Many of them haunt me as the moon casts a glowing column of light on the water. The clouds are thin but many. The wind rolls back and forth under my collar as I stand. 

I'm a man on a beach. 

I snap back to the present as the waves flatten and flow up the sand. The warm water crests over my feet and wets the ankle of my pants. It's fucking midnight, what am I doing here?

I'm a man on a beach. 

Wait? Is that me? Am I alive in there? Do I feel something? No it can't be. That's impossible at this point. You can only be numb cause none of what goes on really has any meaning. The experiences are supposed to make you feel things, change your motivations even; until the day you die.

I'm a man on a beach.

Am I? Are you sure I'm a man? Or am I a fa├žade stretched over a core of nothingness? Fuck, am I Patrick Bateman? Nah that character is only fictitious in execution and absurdity. But I couldn't be one of the real life Bateman-types because I'm poor, so I hold compassion for people, because I think it makes my existence a bit more legitimate. In reality it means nothing, even though I made somebody else feel something. That's enough for me though: making people feel something. If I'm capable enough maybe I can help save someone else from emptiness. But for right now I'm just a man on a beach.

Saturday, August 7, 2021

The Vision Part Two: Master and Slave

I once wrote about when religion created an arrogant monster out of a simple preacher. Greed took on his heart and came out victorious in a way young me never thought possible. Young me saw a lot of good in church at one point, as did a lot of young black kids in the south. It is the specific root that anchors our culture. So today, I want to think about the good times and what they mean today looking back. 

Sundays were always this beautiful crash of noise and colour in our church. I say Sunday owing to the fact it felt like an all-day event sometimes. In the Winter the sun would barely be in the sky when you arrived, and sometimes would be on its way back down by the time we left. My dad used to fidget and whine if he was missing any sport he kept up with, so much so he started driving separately to church so he could leave when he wanted. 

But while we were there all day, there was work being done. I never understood any of it as a child, why grown people would sing, yell, or even cry about a force they've never seen. I never understood the dancing under the crescendo of hard drumming and wailing organs. To “shout” is the verb that puts it all together. The bishop would yell sing-songy incantations over the music:


Folk would cry, waving their arms, and some would break out running down the aisles as the bishop continued moving the flock with his voice. It looked almost hypnotic to me at the time, the congregation locked in a trance. But as I got older I realised all the energy came from within every member of the congregation. This wasn't a performance or a holy shindig, this was something entirely different. 

What it really all came down to was pain and how faith became the main catharsis for said pain. The music, the tears, the wailing for the grace of God was a cleansing of the hardships everybody faced. Black people generally suffer quietly in our day-to-day lives, the societal pressures we share bring us closer to each other, with a silent understanding of what someone has been through. But all of us knew that on Sunday there was a place to let go of all these things.

You just lost your child to violence? 

Praise the Lord.

You’re due for eviction from your home?

Pray louder.

Your power is about to be shut off?

Cry out the name of the Lord.

You’re facing racists at work?

God’s got it.

Your job is cutting back your hours?

Bring it to God.

I used to wonder why mother would cry and shout every week until I was old enough to feel all the same adult pain she did. She let her emotions flow on Sunday, every late bill or worsening cancer diagnosis was just another reason to celebrate just being. Faith was the outlet that kept life all together. Week in and week out, the pure pain of blackness weighed heavy on the souls of the congregation, and faith kept everyone going. 

This is a tradition that has continued for generations. My father, now in his late 70’s, grew up the same way. With his mother and grandmother singing hymns and praises every week. Shaking off the pain of a society that was broken and physically divided. My father is about three generations away from slavery, where this tradition all began. Singing hymns, praying that the Lord would deliver you from bondage, all developed during those times. The fact that black people still have the deep need to shed the wickedness of the world around us with church all these years later shows that the minds at work that surround us in society haven't changed. We might not be enslaved, but America still doesn't want to let go of the dynamic. 

We aren’t free still, the fact that we still have to release so much pain in the church shows it. That’s how a congregation of people could leave it in God’s hands when the preacher arrives in a Maybach. Because the blind faith that they put in God to deliver them from inequity also made them vulnerable to applying it to all things in life. Maybe one day God somehow answers all the prayers of our ancestors through some wild reversal of fate. Who knows, but until then the black church will always be bright and loud on Sunday.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Vignettes Vol 4

 2001 Infiniti Q45:

It's 9:45 and yet another tow ordered through AAA is yanking the Q onto the flatbed in front of a Circle K somewhere in Huntersville. I'm late to work which doesn't really mean anything because I work at Classic Nissan of Statesville. The store was a desperate mark on my resume made up of a mix of necessity and the appearance of a certain position on my CV. I was following the path I had seen some of my young white counterparts fast track their way up the ladder. See, this isn't a play on privilege, at least not the way you'd assume. See, what the shiny young white guys figured out is having the audacity to apply for management at a low-tier store. That's the really where the difference in culture and effects of slavery and discrimination present themselves, because as a young black guy all I could see was every terrible thing that could happen just by me having the audacity to ask for a position. That level of conditioning is not bred from fear, but rather just purely existing in a society that doesn't want you there. But I didn't care, I knew I was more valuable than my counterparts and ended up with the same results they did. But that was very far in the back of my brain as the Ram 5500 with the long ass sedan on its frame pulled off of Garner Bagnal Blvd. I sat up in the passenger seat after 30 minutes of watching my Q45 bounce up and down in the rear view mirror and trying to sell the driver a new Altima. The morning meetings had passed by the time I waved off the tow truck and made my way to the sales tower. I straightened my collar and got right to work and quickly realised I didn't have to have the audacity to show up to work late in a tow truck. I made it to where I didn't have to answer to a soul about my actions. I had three cars, mostly broken, sitting on the back line and I didn't have to hear a word about it. I made it further up the layer cake, but my poor decision-making was still apparent. Plus, what the fuck was I driving home?

1997 Acura 2.2CL:

A week ago I got a ticket in this stupid thing. Just driving back to the dealership from KFC with lunch. There was no tag on the car but that didn’t really matter to me because I was driving a mile down the street. What I didn’t see was the state trooper hiding behind the railway bridge on my way back. Traffic stops always make me nervous as hell for reasons I don’t think I actually need to say. But, the most positive law enforcement interactions I’ve ever had involved the NCSHP, so I at least was able to wipe the terror from my face before I spoke to the trooper. He was in a good mood and told me he pulled me over for the seat belt, but inquired about the missing license plate. I pointed up the street to the dealership and told him I worked 500 ft away and had just bought the car from a coworker and was taking it for a quick test drive before I arranged to get it home. This was really 95% the truth minus the fact I bought the car 6 weeks ago and haven’t received the title from my coworker yet. But that was the least important thing at the time, me getting back to the dealership with lunch and no handcuffs or bullets being involved was the goal. I got my wish and I parked the ratchet Acura back behind the shop as soon as I pulled into the lot. In the weeks that followed I took a Honda Accord someone gave me in exchange for a debt owed and traded my friend Malcolm for the Q45. The Accord was his type of easy sale, and the Q45 was my type of destructive. It was truly meant to be until the Infiniti broke every time it moved. Now that the Q was sitting in the back of the dealership with coolant running out of its orifices, I’m here in the Acura. I jacked a 30 day plate off a car that got returned earlier that week, and took off towards Charlotte. It was dark, and in 5th gear with the cruise control engaged, the all-black Honda product blended into everything around it. Traffic was sparse heading south on I-77 this time of the night. The toll lanes were still 15 minutes away and I had to keep my head on a swivel viewing the random patches of grass along the median, where the Iredell County Sheriff’s Deputies would perch to collect money from the uninitiated. I wasn’t planning on the F22B1 generating high numbers on the speedometer. This was an Accord EX-L Coupe with a nicer looking interior, but it still felt different somehow. Even though the Acura wasn’t a powerful, silken companion made for endless cruising, it felt safe. I never felt like pieces were going to fall off as I drove or the cooling system would fail catastrophically. It was an extra layer of stability I didn’t know how bad I needed at the time. I made it to a place in life and now I needed life to lead me to a place I didn’t yet understand. She looked ratchet as hell but she was ready, that Acura was the best companion I could have on the journey.