Tojo Never Made It

Road Tales By Kelly Ashton

WHEN I USED to work at Ozbike magazine (as Editor, no less) deadlines didn’t worry me. They should have, though, because putting together and publishing a monthly magazine lives and dies on deadlines.

When you sit down to read your shiny new Ozbike, it’s entirely possible you don’t fully understand the blood, sweat and swearing involved in getting your mag out on the newsstands or in your letterbox. It’s hectic, brother, let me tell you that for nothing.

There are people out there in the world who can keep to a deadline, everything in order and happening at exactly the correct time; people like Skol (Biker in Charge and Grand Pooh-Bah of the Ozbike publishing empire). For people like Skol, their greatest challenge is getting the more random workers under their care to work to deadlines so everything works out as planned. 

Being a more random person, nothing ever goes to plan for me, but luckily, there’s a principle called Parkinson’s Law which states: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” The other side of the story is that no matter how little time is left to complete a task, that’s how long it will take — you’ll get it done. 

There is even a deadline calendar I’ve seen which has the first 27 days of each month filled with soothing Mummyisms, like: ‘It’s okay, everything’s going to be fine’ or ‘Sweet — no rush’ and ‘No panic — plenty of time,’ but the last few days of the month have ‘HELP’ and ‘PANIC’ and ‘OH MY GAWD!’ written in the day’s squares.

Working on a monthly magazine means you actually have four issues to work on at the same time: That’s right; there’s the next mag you’re planning — chasing up stories, organising cover bikes to shoot and cool bikes for staff and contributors to shoot, finding the models, harassing contributors to lodge their work, etc. There’s another unfinished magazine, the one you’re actually shooting the cover for, writing the stories and co-ordinating the art director, assembling the jumble of words and pics, and that issue is usually the main focus. The third magazine is already at the printers which feels like handing over your newborn to a doddery old aunt for a cuddle. Then there’s the fourth mag, the toughest, most physically draining magazine, the one that is hot off the presses and looks fantastic but hides a multitude of mostly unglamorous tasks, like organising the subscribers to receive their mags on time, explaining to contributors why we didn’t run that particular photo (usually the best photo ever taken in the history of the world according to contributor) and why we couldn’t run their story to 27 pages. Then there’s any competition prizes or gifts to get to our loyal readers and the ever-present posting out of the mighty Ozbike T-shirts in all sizes and a range of colours including Black, Extra Black and Ultra Black. (Everyone knows all T-shirts are the same black, but they still order the Ultra Black, because, well, we’re bikies, of course).

In case you didn’t know, a couple of hundred Ultra Black T-shirts with the Ozbike logo printed front and back don’t just order themselves; no, that was up to Muggins to keep the place stocked with life-enhancing T-shirtery, so orders had to be placed and stock needed to be transported to Casa Ozbike, and that provided some humorous highlights for me.

See, Skol had a ‘Keep it local’ policy when it came to regular Ozbike suppliers, and local business got our business. The nearness of the supplier was not as important as quality v. price but it did enter the equation. For our T-shirts, we choose Yu-Bute T-shirts as they were in Glebe right near Broadway at the same time Ozbike’s offices were a block up from Glebe Point Road.

In a ‘perfect world’, once a month, a couple of hundred-odd T-shirts would be ordered in advance, they would be printed up with the world renown and much-loved Ozbike logo, then a courier would be organised for the half mile journey to Casa Ozbike so they could be distributed to eager Ozbikers all over the goddammed world! But it isn’t a perfect world, and normally right in the middle of something really, really important in the magazine’s production, a cheery phone call would alert us to the wonderful news that our Tees were ready to pick up.

Being a multi-tasker (people with no concept of deadlines are always good multi-taskers), I would jump on the Mighty Norton, roar off noisily to the T-shirt printers and insist that they load me up for the half-mile trip back to the office. Given there was rarely access to a motorcar in a normal Ozbike day; we had to use our motorbikes for most errands.

Improvise, Adapt and Overcome is a slogan of the US Marine Corps, and multi-taskers believe in the same creed. However, there was no way I could get the T-shirt people to refrain from laughing as they helped load up the bike with steaming hot T-shirts (it’s true, T-shirts fresh from the screen printing process are still warm). If you could imagine what two large cardboard boxes full of a couple of hundred heated Ozbike T-shirts looks like, well, they’re big, okay?

I don’t know whether you are offended or impressed with the shit you see on the Internet these days — you know — those clips and pics of people carrying lots of weird cargo on motorbikes, but I am always impressed. I mean, how could you not admire some prick in Chogeyland who is able to transport his wife, kids, three bales of hay, four piglets and a goat on a Honda Step-Thru? Improvise, adapt and overcome, I say!

So what was involved in transporting two large boxes of T-shirts by a blue 1972 Norton Fastback or a black 1970 Triumph Trophy? (Oh shit! I hope the Missus isn’t reading this — sorry Darls, I just happened to be borrowing your motorbike one day when the T-shirts needed picking up).

Here’s what happens: I park the motorbike in the loading dock of the T-shirt place, facing outbound, naturally. Then, I seat myself on the motorbike and kickstart the motor. With the motorbike rumpitty-rumping nicely, and the front wheel wobbling to-and-fro as a well-tuned British twin does, lots of soft, fluffy rags are gently placed on the stylish petrol tank. Then, the lovely Caroline, the T-shirt lady, will heave one giant cardboard box onto the tank and hold it while another assistant heaves the other box onto the pillion seat. Then, with each respective heaver holding the rickin’ fuduculous and slightly unsafe load, another assistant will run like a maddy arse-clown round and round the ensemble with brown packing tape, effectively locking the two cartons to me and the motorbike. Then, it’s just a simple matter of easing the motorbike out of the loading dock and wobbling up the back lane onto the deadly Glebe Point Road. 

Next comes a short sprint up the main drag, swerving around the tolerable lesbian hippie alternative people who infest the Glebe ecosystem, and all the while glaring at the more obnoxious ones.

With a bit of luck, Yu-Bute T-shirt people had rung ahead and informed Publisher Skol or Ace Adman Steve that the T-Shirt Express was almost there and to open the gates and assist in the unloading procedure. All going well, I didn’t have to perform the lead in the double-box breakdance routine outside the locked Ozbike gates.

One T-Shirt run — which is actually the main thrust of this yarn — was made an even more harrowing, dangerous and just plain foolish event by not using a motorbike. True! The trek was made on foot. 

I had snuck away to the big department store on Broadway for some comfort food in the middle of a particularly rugged day at the office. This was a few short weeks after Skol had vehemently insisted I become a mobile-phone owner, and a piece of plastic malevolently named Nokia was sitting on the café table next to my toasted ham and cheese sambo. It was staring at me hatefully and I was staring back at it even worse. I’d just written a piece in Ozbike railing at the pompous pricks who talk loudly in cafes to nobody there and annoying all the people having a quiet time with a toasted sanger and a pot of tea. (I usually join in loud mobile-phone chatter, second-guessing and loudly responding to the shouter in the brief period when his unheard companion would normally be speaking. Most times, the shouter can’t believe someone would be so rude as to actively participate in a private phone call no-one in the café can escape from).

But there I was in the Broadway café quietly seething at the infernal invention when, in the middle of a particular dark seethe, my brand-new bastard Nokia rang out annoyingly. It was Caroline informing that the Tees were ready to pick up.

“I’m on my way,” I shouted into my pesky plastic pal.

But there was a dilemma: do I walk past the T-shirt factory to get back to the office to pick up motorbike, back-track to factory and then engage in the completely stupid operation of loading cargo on a mono-track vehicle quite frankly not designed for the carriage of goods?

Of course not; who’d do a dumb thing like that?

Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.

I was already improvising and adapting as I presented on foot in the dock of the T-shirt place.

The pleasant Yu-Bute staff laughed even more uncontrollably as I backed up to the dock and placed my shoulders at factory floor level, raised my arms and shouted, “Load ’em up, Caroline!” 

The workers duly shoved the two large cardboard boxes forward, the front side of both boxes leaning on me; the backsides of the boxes just sittin’ on the dock. We weren’t wasting time, and the packing tape jockey spooled madly around the two big boxes, keeping them happy together and firmly attached to my upper torso. 

I may well have looked like a right prat, my chubby cheeks squeezed into a permanent silly grin sandwiched between the steady pair of T-shirt boxes, but I was up, up and away, staggering and swaying out the loading dock and into the lane like a strange looking lunatic.

You know how dogs with injured legs get a bottomless plastic bucket pushed over their head to stop unwanted chewing? And you know that sheepish and embarrassed look they carry because they know they look stupid to all their doggie peers? Well, I was having none of that shit. I was quite proud of my improvisation, adaptation and general overcomingness.

So it was with great gusto that I strode — nay — nearly jogged along Glebe Point Road. I didn’t give a tuppenny piss what I looked like; I was getting these T-shirts back to home base while multi-tasking on the journey home from lunch. All was going well, until… and I’ve got to pile on some extra emphasis… UNTIL… I spied, with my squinting eye, something beginning with F, B, J, B, I and S.

That’s right, dear readers, it was Four Bloody Japanese Businessmen In Suits!

They were haughtily walking four abreast, southbound on Glebe Point Road’s eastern footpath that, co-incidentally, was exactly wide enough for Four Japanese Businessmen In Suits to walk along if they were formed up in normal spacing intervals. It was also just wide enough for a northbound Ozbike Editor carrying two huge, taped-together cardboard boxes full of Ozbike Tees on his acceptably broad shoulders.

Southbound Nips and Northbound Biker were approaching each other head on. Bearing: 0 degrees; range: 40 metres dead ahead and closing; 30 metres and closing; 20 metres and closing… it appeared the four-abreast Japanese Bloody Businessmen were determined to continue southbound unimpeded. The look of slightly inscrutable but nonetheless steely resolve had set their jaws forward; the look told all and sundry that they had right-of-way and had no intention of deviating from their set course.

Either did I.

Now, right here and now, I’ve got to admit something — forgive my evil thoughts — I fully believed there were only two possible reasons for their unreasonable behaviour: Either it was a class thing where these four Japanese people thought I was a lowly field worker, a coolie, and as such I was to move off the footpath into the gutter to let them (in all their importance) pass; or the other, more disturbing possibility — they were being racist. And that’s the vibe I was getting.

Bloody racism, eh? Right here in Australia. Sorta like, “Hey, Whitey, get off our footpath; we just bought it. In fact, get out of our country; we just bought that too!”

As the gap diminished to next to nothing, the look on the businessmen’s faces was priceless. Their jutting jaw steely determination was given up by the furrowed brows and confused looks. The look spoke volumes. ‘This common field worker/low life Aussie is not vacating the footpath to let us through, hawww… how can this be?’ was what the look was saying.

I was at ramming speed and kept a steady course.

These Japs kept on walking towards me even though any dickhead could plainly see I wasn’t giving way. What made it worse for them was that they weren’t even braced for impact. I was.

The two Japs on the outside flanks swept past, but the two inside centres were clean bowled, knocked to the ground by giant, big large and heavy cardboard boxes being carried by a determined biker on his shoulders like a coolie. Bang! Each had a cardboard box slammed fair in the face and down they went like a dropped sausage from a sauce-slippery slice of bread.

It probably would’ve required less effort to bring a ‘Q’ class destroyer around 180 degrees starboard, but I managed to bravely pivot around, boxes still held high, to survey the remnants of the battle. The two who didn’t fall were helping their downed mates to their feet, all the while looking back at me in shock. They had obviously never had to deal with Australian ideas; that everyone in Australia expects a fair go and is likely to say, ‘Fuck off, idiot,” if he doesn’t get it.

“My footpath, my country!” I yelled, but not in a racist way. No sir, I was simply expressing my views as a downtrodden worker to the evil bourgeoisie. 

It was with a renewed vigour that I strode up Glebe Point Road to the salubrious offices of Ozbike. It was then I discovered that the gates weren’t open, Steve and Skol were at lunch (probably at a Broadway Café) and I had to do the two-box breakdance all by myself; it is a dance which hurts your ears as the packing tape and cardboard scrape over soft flesh. It also likely ends with at least one of the boxes splitting open as it hits the deck like a Japanese businessman. It’s just so unfair.

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