in Columns Published in the Asheville Citizen-Times

A Harley Biker at my Garage Sale

Asheville Citizen-Times 05/12/2014 –

HarleyIt was early afternoon when I recognized the distinctive, approaching sound. Within seconds, the Harley-Davidson pulled around the corner and headed for my driveway. Based on past experience, it was unusual for a biker to visit a garage sale—a place where people come and go, rummage through tables of junk, always searching for the diamond in the rough, the one great value that no one else has recognized. As the motorcycle drew closer, I noticed no hard or soft saddlebags to carry any purchases. I was wary. I’d heard stories of individuals looking for quick cash by robbing garage sales.

The rider was stereotypical, mostly what I had anticipated, but with a Hollywood flair—denim vest over a black tee-shirt, jeans, engineer boots, earrings, hair in a ponytail, two full sleeves of tattoos, and his wallet chained to his belt. I walked over and admired the super-shined black and chrome motorcycle as he put it up on its stand. He said it was a custom Low Rider which didn’t mean much to me other than it was a beautiful machine.

I asked if he was looking for anything special. He shook his head and said he was just browsing. He headed for the tables that were surrounded by other bargain hunters and spent a few minutes studying some old record albums and a couple of vintage cameras, along with other attic castoffs. Then to my surprise, instead of heading back to his Harley, he sat in an empty lawn chair next to my wife, who was reading a novel. She glanced up, closed her book and smiled at him, not at all intimidated by his appearance. She has always had an inherent kindness and non-judgmental focus that makes her approachable. He sensed that.

I sat down in the chair on the other side of him and listened to the conversation. It started with the weather, then his motorcycle, then his name, which was Lee. After a while, he mentioned that his nine-year marriage was breaking up and he was afraid of losing his two young daughters. He said his wife was tired of his behavior, and though he didn’t come out and admit it, by his tone and choice of words, I thought maybe he had some addiction issues. He said that now all he wanted in his life was a piece of land where he could push his girls on swings, where he could sit at a dinner table and help them with their homework. It sounded to me like Easy Rider was searching for the white picket fence.

More cars pulled up near the driveway with couples and families spilling out. As we talked to possible buyers, Lee joined in, helping us, asking prices. After he received cash from any buyer, he would immediately walk over and hand it to me.

As the rush slowed, with just a few people moving around the leftovers, the three of us sat down again. Lee picked up the conversation, now more relaxed, more forthcoming. He didn’t blame his wife for any of his problems. He added that he was surprised she put up with him as long as she did.

My wife mentioned that because it was such a beautiful day, she was surprised he wasn’t out riding with other motorcyclists. A long silence, then he said, “I can’t do that anymore.” He talked about his daughters again. Then quickly, very quickly, he wiped away tears with the back of his hand.

It gradually occurred to me that Lee had no place to go, no one to see, that he was trying to fill vacant time and had discovered a temporary comfort zone in my driveway. He was clearly at a personal crossroads, one of those critical junctures we all face at one time or another—flashpoints that either illuminate the new path or burn us alive.

Emptiness can fill any shape or size. With Lee, as I listened, I felt that emptiness, recognized his loneliness, and knew he had a critical struggle ahead of him.

We talked for another half-hour before he stood up. I gave him our phone number before he took off. He thanked me.

I looked for Lee at other garage sales, auctions—even at local high school basketball or football games. And every once in a while I’d see a motorcycle for sale that was propped up on the side of a road, but it was never the black and chrome beauty I remembered.

The years passed.

I never saw him again.

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