The Day A Zillionaire Washed My Harley-Davidson

Road Tales By Kelly Ashton

I DON’T WORK full-time for Ozbike anymore, although if this piece actually gets published in Ozbike, we can assume I’m sorta/kinda still working for them, just on a freelance basis. But the many years I did work full time with the world’s best biker mag, I had a ball. Sure, it did have its bad points, but man, the highlights went beyond fantastic. Getting paid to party, ride bikes and photograph naked girlies must have a downside somewhere; I just never found it.

And being a scumbag bikie journo, you got dropped into many interesting situations, engaged many interesting people and travelled to many interesting places. The nature of the whole bike journo gig was that you usually wrote a story about whatever you saw or did, but there are still a million things I didn’t write about. Of course, some of those incidents could never be published, but here’s one that can: It was The Day A Zillionaire Washed My Harley-Davidson.

The Ozbike office has moved about over the years, and at one time was situated in the salubrious surroundings of Redfern. It was a fine building, with the ICAC just across the road and Johnno’s (Redfern Motor Cycles) in a little laneway up the other end of George Street.

And the best part of the address was a huge, concreted vacant lot right next door. It was great, you could bash out stories on the computer, and keep a keen eye on the Norton, or brand-new Harley, or whatever you had parked out there.

But nothing lasts forever, and the vacant lot was sold. A zillionaire property developer had big plans for small apartments; those plans ensured we weren’t going to like what was about to occur for the next year or so. When a huge vacant lot turns into a skinny, scaffold-clad driveway, it’s always bad, but when the machines take over your own little world, it’s really bad. Gi-normous steam shovels breaking up large slabs of concrete, pile drivers, bulldozers, trucks and every colour of power tool can drive you batshit when you’re trying to produce a couple of magazines a month. Choking dust, deafening noise and Richter-wrecking earth movements do not go hand in hand with publishing.

The sun ain’t gonna shine anymore, and needless to say, Ozbike was soon at war with the developer.

The developer was a nice enough bloke, and to be fair, he did bend over backwards in his efforts to minimise disruptions to our business, but man, there were some serious disruptions. The developer’s name was Peter, and he was migrant success story if ever there was one. He had a finger in many financial pies, although when he first lobbed in Australia, he was a penniless immigrant with a Nazi concentration camp prisoner number tattooed on his arm. Yeah, the lad from overseas had done good.

As the monstrosity next door neared completion, we’d all become almost mates; so much so that Peter was invited and duly rocked up to Ozbike’s then-editor Boris’ buck’s night up the ’Cross. It was interesting to see a bloke with a death-camp serial number tattooed on his forearm drinking and telling jokes with a number of big, ugly bikers with swastika tattoos and swastika T-shirts.

In a quiet time later in the night, being a bit up-front, I asked him how he felt about people wearing Nazi paraphernalia. His answer surprised me: “I don’t really care,” he shrugged. “See, these boys are living in this wonderful country of Australia, in these fabulous times, and they don’t really understand what is was like back then when Hitler was around. If they had any idea of how bad it was for human beings, and what the swastika represented, they wouldn’t wear it.”

Fair enough, I thought, but the reason for this yarn occurred prior to that wild old buck’s night when the Great War between the George Street neighbours was beginning to thaw. One day, after Peter had sorted out another problem (the builder’s careless attitude was the main problem; had the union ever got involved, that site would’ve been shut down on multiple safety breaches before the delegation got through the front gate), Peter was asking us about the swimsuit, lingerie and evening wear the models almost wore for the Ozbike cover shoots. “I own a swimwear company, and I’d be happy for you to borrow any of the line for photo-shoots,” he casually mentioned. “As long as the brand gets a credit,” he added hopefully.

“Of course it would!” yelled Boris, suddenly very interested in Peter’s other business interest.

Now, I won’t mention the huge name of high-class swim-and evening-wear line we had just tapped into, but, suffice to say, if you’ve ever gristled up and had to ‘adjust’ the wedding tackle while passing any of the stunningly sexy billboards saturating major cities at present, you’ll know which swimwear company I’m talking about.

Peter made a few phone calls and organised us a meeting with his managers straight away. Another good thing about Ozbike was the manic pace at which most things happened, and how instantly new directions were pursued. Within minutes, Boris and I were on the motorbikes and barrelling down Cleveland Street to Surry Hills, to Peter’s swimsuit factory. I was on my bright red FXR and Boris was riding ‘Mr Cruel’, his recently customised Heritage Softail.

Now, to be honest, I was pretty damned proud of my FXR. It was a motorcycle of many ‘firsts’ for me. First-ever brand new bike, first bike with left foot gear-change, first with blinkers, first with electric start, and if you don’t count the lonely disc on the front of the Commando, the first non-drum braked bike. And it was only the second bike I’ve actually ridden home from the place of purchase, rather than having it arrive in boxes in the back of a ute. The first one I rode home was the AJS, but as that was a racer with a straight-through pipe and no lights, it was snuck home the back way so that wouldn’t count either.

Harley-Davidson Fat Boy
Mr Cruel

Boris’s Mr Cruel looked magnificent, with its apeys, raked frame, extended forks and get-fucked straight through pipes. The crowning glory was the radically ‘blobbed’ hot flamed paintwork by Dan Murdoch. It looked like the aftermath of a shotgun massacre in a cartoonist’s studio and the shine was miles deep.

Peter had told us to park the bikes in the car spot reserved for him, so we did. A greeting party came down to meet us and treated us like royalty, rather than the scumbag bikies we were.

It seemed like everyone had been told to treat us nice and give us whatever we wanted. Everyone, of course, except for Old Herb, the car park attendant.

Boris and I were in the boardroom: “Yeah, we’ll have one of this style, one of that… oh, and one of each colour combination of that style there… It was photo-shoot styling Heaven, and they were going to deliver it to our office, so the old trick of transporting thousands of bucks worth of sheilas’ apparel by motorbike wouldn’t be necessary this time.

Boris and me and the managers from the rag trade were talking like old drinkin’ buddies as we wandered down to the bikes. Boris was still discussing important stuff with our new best friends as I walked to the bikes. My jaw dropped. My heart sank. The barely contained rage exploded with a hearty “WHAT THE FUCK?” which duly attracted everyone’s attention, including Boris, who promptly said what I just said, only louder. Old Herb, the car park attendant, had been left off the list of employees told to extend every courtesy to the two ugly bikie visitors, and had dutifully slapped an “Oy! Arsehole — you’re parked illegally, move it!” sticker on the petrol tank of each Harley-Davidson. Yep, the really viral, bright orange ones which aren’t meant to come off window glass without a hell of a tussle. Bang, slap! Right on the beautiful paintwork of the bloody petrol tanks!

Boris and I were stunned for a second, while our new besties were busy forming an ‘uh-oh’ squad. An uh-oh squad is the committee-like group of people who stand around a potentially dangerous or rapidly escalating situation shaking their heads and saying “uh-oh!”

Long time readers and friends of Ozbike will know that two of the staff members at that time looked suspiciously alike and had never been photographed together. One was named Boris, and the other was Bull-Bar. Boris was the genial, thought-provoking writer who ably edited Ozbike and other titles for many years; Bull-Bar, who looked remarkably similar to Boris, but just a little taller and meaner, with madder eyes, flared nostrils, and a lot more flecks of flying foam flailing about. Bull-Bar was very easily fired up and pointed at an enemy.

Bull-Bar had miraculously appeared and began storming about looking for the prick who’d stuck the stickers. Old Herb was in a shitload of trouble and on that day, in that chaotic carpark, I witnessed the largest-ever number of people yelling: ‘SHIT!’ and simultaneously jumping on the shovel. Bull-Bar raged through receptions and loading docks, demanding an audience with Old Herb to show him the error of his sticker-sticking ways. Old Herb had made himself very scarce, and a number of the despatch room workers were immensely brave in standing up to Bull-Bar and declaring that old Herb had a heart condition, and was currently being hidden away for his own health, and no, he would not be produced on a platter.

“Look,” pleaded one of them, “with Herb’s dicky ticker, there’s a big chance the stress will give him a heart attack and he’ll die.”

“Having a heart attack and dying will be the least of his worries if I ever get my hands on him,” Bull-Bar roared most unreasonably. “He’ll know what’s it’s like to have to pay for a respray involving a $4000 custom paint job!”

I’m sure each time Bull-Bar mentioned the cost of the paint job, it increased by increments of $1000, so, by the time the rant was winding down, it was up to a ‘$7000 paint job.’

It’s likely Herb had already slipped out of the country, with forged travel documents and a new identity.

It was about this time that Peter the Zillionaire turned up, having been summoned by the uh-oh squad. “Awww, fer fuck’s sake!” was all he could utter in total exasperation, soon to be joined by a few chants of, “Why me, Lord? Why me?” If the uh-oh squad was in a tizz before, they were really freaking out now the boss was here. With the big boss roaring, Bull-Bar ranting and me silently staring at them in a manner most malevolent, they seemed to running around in ever-decreasing circles.

When some semblance of calm was restored, Peter promised to “make things right” and Bull-Bar and I both climbed aboard our respective Harleys and roared off back down Cleveland Street to Casa Ozbike.

Bull-Bar stalked into the editor’s office to smash some things up or something, while I broke out the hot, soapy water, metho, kero, Mr Sheen, and any other cleaning product that could be dragged out from under a bikie magazine’s kitchen sink.

I gently worked away at the edges of those gnarly stickers, bit-by-bit soaking, peeling, soaking peeling, until both bikes were sticker free.

Before that happened, Peter had arrived, dressed in overalls and pleading to be allowed to wash the bikes. I didn’t answer him at first, but it wasn’t a sulk, more of measured silence. After a bit more pleading from the zillionaire property developer and swimwear king, I relented and allowed him to wash my bike. We had a quiet yakkety-yak about Nortons, Harleys and how good some girls look in bikinis.

Eventually, Boris even reappeared from the editor’s office and wandered down to where the bikes were being washed. It was tense, very tense, but things were going to be okay.

The only other time that red FXR got washed by someone other than me was some time later. We’d done a nice girlie shoot with a lovely girl called Cherrae, using my shed as the studio. All went well, the photographer was happy, Boris was happy, Cherrae was happy, and even I was happy. We’d finished about an hour early, Photo Man reckoned he still had a couple of rolls of film left over and he’d rather shoot on than shoot through.

“I know,” I declared, “we can do one of those great bike-washing-in-bikini themed shoots… here, we can use my bike as a prop!”

“Oh yeah?” both Boris and the snapper quizzed, both very suspiciously. While the photographer was saying lots of photographery-type things like, “Yeah, baby, that’s it, look sexy, arch your back, straighten those fingers, smile… Oh, yeah baby, beautiful”, I was saying things like, “Um, Cherrae, you missed a bit down near the primary case…

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