The good news is I finally found new digs in beautiful Orange County, California. The bad news is I had to team up with the ex-wife to make it happen financially. Don’t cry for me, Argentina, so far it’s working out better than I could’ve hoped: Ex is the perfect housemate in that she tends to not be around for three or four days at a stretch, and when she does appear, she’s got the Master Boudoir, whose bathroom opens onto the backyard/patio. In exchange, I get the Big Office, which opens onto (now that I punched a hole in the wall) the big old 2-car garage out front. Which is all I really need in a house. We’ve achieved separation of church and state, so to speak, both of us get to live in a much sweller place than either of us could afford alone, and no motorcycle (or resident) should have to sleep under the stars anymore unless it wants to.

Whatever! – The SoCal Real Estate Grand Prix

Since the Ex already took half of my stuff once, my thinking is that she’s less likely to do it again than if I were to start over with a newer, pre-menopausal model. I feel like I’ve been vaccinated. I think I envy you people who mate for life; I’ve only been able to mate for a couple of years at a time before the fur starts flying, in spite of the fact I am more peace-loving than Gandhi – and in the eight years wifey and I lived apart, I feel like I’ve been through enough romantic combat to tide me over for some time. Maybe every marriage would be better off with an intermission? All I know is every time I look at a couple and say, “Well, at least Bob and Jane are still happy and together,” Bob lets spill the next week that Jane wants a divorce. It’s sadly epidemic.

Also, anybody who has kids knows that once you create one with somebody, you’re pretty much stuck with your co-procreator for life: The Ex always turned up at holidays and things anyway; why fight it? At my age, I need vehicle storage more than I need live-in love, and a place for my kid to call home when he needs one. When she is here, Ex’s hobbies include cooking and cleaning, which is a form of practical love I’m down with. I don’t agree with her no-motorcycles-in-the-house rule of home decor, but it’s a small price to pay since now I can simply adjourn to my garage. (We almost had an argument about excess furniture storage, till I decided the sectional in here isn’t so bad…) Yes it’s all irrational, but the housing market here creates all sorts of strange living arrangements.

Anyway, Lou had been living here for 43 years and generously offered to leave much of his accumulated wealth in the garage, an offer I declined as graciously as possible since I had a moving van full of my own junk to move in. I was sure I’d get rid of at least half of it in the moving process, but as I examined each item while packing, it turned out there wasn’t much I’d be able to do without. You never know when you might get a boat again and will need an adjustable gland-packing wrench (or whatever this thing’s called) and a quart of teak oil. I did throw out some SRX-6 stuff, but I can’t make myself throw out parts that are still in the original packaging, or things that are brand new even if I can’t remember what they are. I have enough stuff now that just about every time I buy a new tool or thing, I generally find the one I forgot I already owned about two days later when I’m looking for something else. It’s always good to have a spare on hand.

Let me know if you need a side cover gasket for an SRX-6. Or your packing glands adjusted.

Let me know if you need a side cover gasket for an SRX-6. Or your packing glands adjusted.

At my old rental, there was a big covered driveway/carport at the side of the house, which seemed great when we moved in for what was only supposed to be a few years but turned into nearly 20. Even in California’s mild climate, there’s no substitute for an enclosed garage. Even under a nice canvas, things left outside just get dusty and then grungy. Then the mice move into your toolbox and airbox, followed by larger rodents, followed by the neighborhood cats who need to let each other know they’ve been there. Leaving a nice bike cover folded up on top of a tool chest is like opening a rodent Hilton. They could’ve filmed a Nature episode in my old carport. Possums, raccoons, coyotes, spiders. What draws them to my toolbox? Is it the delicious coconut scent of Honda Spray Polish?

I don’t remember what this is but I’m sure I’ll find out as soon as I throw it away. So I better hold onto it...

I don’t remember what this is but I’m sure I’ll find out as soon as I throw it away. So I better hold onto it…

That’s all behind me now as I sit here typing in my new (to me) garage complete with actual rubber seal at the bottom of the roll-up door. The only living thing in here is me. It’s like coming home from a really long camping trip. I don’t know why I’m not much into vintage motorcycles, but I am into vintage buildings in older parts of town with big trees. Lou’s 1963 garage, with its cathedral ceiling rafters stuffed with spare Douglas fir 4x4s and floorboards, solid old workbenches along one side and eau de WD-40 aroma feels a little bit like my own tiny cathedral. I decided it reminds me of my Granddad’s workshop, a place I last visited when I was maybe six years old, half a century ago. My granddad was a machinist for the railroad, and to get to his lair on the alley you walked down the back stairs, past the big pear tree and along the brick path between the chickens (I still fear banty roosters) and the vegetable garden. Even when it was Africa hot in Birmingham, it was cool and dark in there amongst the big blue vise and the drill press on the thick old workbench, the anvil on the dirt floor was straight out of Bugs Bunny.

I don’t think women were banned, but I don’t remember one ever being in there. They’d call out from the other side of the chickens when supper was ready. My Dad was the baby of the family, his older brother Sammy had been in Patton’s division (I found out years later), but I don’t remember anybody ever talking about anything as unpleasant as war in Granddad’s workshop at all. It was all about the chickens, the beagles (Uncle Sam raised them), the tomatoes in the garden, or which train that was rumbling by two blocks over on the Southern mainline. Somebody would pour a little beer from a brown bottle into my little jelly jar now and then. Somebody else would make a wisecrack about the old Hupmobile, which I thought must have something to do with football, which was another main topic. Uncle George didn’t say much at all. He’d had polio and never left home.

My Pops had zero use for motorcycles, but he was a huge enthusiast of the Crescent Limited, which ran through his back yard every day. Close enough – it’s all pistons and cylinders and getting there in a hurry.

My Pops had zero use for motorcycles, but he was a huge enthusiast of the Crescent Limited, which ran through his back yard every day. Close enough – it’s all pistons and cylinders and getting there in a hurry.

All those people are long gone now. Birmingham, Alabama, circa 1966 feels about as far from modern SoCal as you can get and still be in the continental U.S. in the same lifetime. I thought I just needed bike storage, but the real reason I needed a garage didn’t occur to me until I sat down in here to write this column: Every time I see a big vise bolted to a scarred old workbench and smell that smell, I’m back there with my original tribe. The motorcycles in here are a poor substitute, but they’ll do for now. I may need to get some chickens and a hound or two.

  • Kevin Broce

    This is a long article just to tease us with a photo of a RC390! I kid, thanks for bringing me back to my dad’s old garage, haven’t thought about that one in years.

    • john burns

      I get paid by the word, sorry. WAIT, I don’t get paid by the word at all now that you mention it. I’ll shoot for shorter from now on. (The RC’s a little disappointing, more to come soon…)

      • Kevin Broce

        No no, I’ve just been eagerly awaiting some post first ride reports on the RC390. I’ve enjoyed Whatever!, keep it up.

  • Craig Hoffman

    Fun to take a peek into the JB lifestyle.

    I escaped CA 11 years ago, but my best friend still lives there. He has a suitably dingy but impressive man cave/shop with all the toys, including lathes, milling machines, welders and, yes, motorcycles on a black and white checkerboard covered office space. The shop also has a shower equipped bathroom and kitchenette, with basic sleeping arrangements.

    He seemingly has given up on actual work (used to be a contractor) and tinkers with his vintage bikes and ’69 Chevy Nova project car with tube chassis and 650 hp V8. It actually appears he will complete the car this year. He does do some custom metalwork and fabrication such as cool mailbox posts and custom gates and railings to give himself the air of legitimacy, but really he is just playing with his toys. He makes enough with the shop to cover expenses and such, maybe a little extra, but without his wife he would be doomed.

    His wife, meanwhile, works her butt off in an elderly care business they own. He helps, but she does 95% of the work. She also stands to inherit about 1M in paid for overpriced SoCal real estate soon, and has a really nice ass. Dunno how he has held onto that one. My friend is a lucky man. Most would say he is lazy. I think he is a genius 🙂

    Hit me up if you want to get something welded, machine or milled and to waste hours, perhaps even days of your life 🙂

    • john burns

      very cool Craig, thanks for sharing.

  • I don’t know if you’ve ever considered doing so or tried, but if you wrote a novel I would definitely buy it.

  • Andrew

    Dude is wearing socks with between the toe flip-
    flops. Classic.

    • john burns

      my wardrobe person was off that day.

      • Michael McMillan

        Hard to find a good personal stylist who also knows how an oil filter wrench works…

  • fastfreddie

    It’s just as sweet knowing somebody with a fully stocked garage.It’s like visiting friends kids.They’re charming when you’re there,and you can leave before the chores needs doing.

    Nice little article:)

    Edit:That thing you’re not sure about,can it be part of a scottoiler system…

  • Chris Kallfelz

    Pretty elegant solution really when you think about it, John…Cripes, I could live
    with just the garage (stick a microwave, a fridge, and a Mr. Coffee in
    there) and access to a bathroom just fine. I can sleep anywhere…Other than the odd
    loud noise from time to time you’d never even know I was there…

    • john burns

      Well I mean I have a bedroom too, but you’re right. A million things could go wrong here and it’s nice to have a redoubt where I can barricade myself and set up the .50 cal. just in case.

  • howard kelly

    Nice that you have a garage to call your own again JPB…..Mazel Tov.

  • JMDonald

    Don’t forget to leave a small space for the pretty girl calendar.

  • Michael McMillan

    A close friend who’s a contractor swears that if anything happens to his marriage, he’s going to build himself a three car garage with an efficiency apartment upstairs.

  • ADB

    Well done John Burns, well done. You just made my day.

  • Terry Smith

    The mystery object looks like a PAIR valve fitting to me (allows fresh air from the airbox to be drawn into the exhaust manifold near the head, to deal with nasty residual hydrocarbons) or possible a piece of a Transformer. If it is part of a PAIR valve, they look great lying in the bottom of a trash can.

  • Ray

    I never really realized how important having a nice garage was until I built one. Guys spend their lives doing the happy wife, happy life and providing for their families and their homes become dominated by their wives and kids. After moving to a home with the smallest garage I had had in almost two decades so my wife and oldest could have horses, I built a garage

    My wife’s comment was that I should have done long before. She hadn’t seen me so happy in years.

    • john burns

      wow, almost as nice as mine Ray.

      • Ray

        Yeah, I know. No KTM and sectional>futon!

    • Craig Hoffman

      Wow Ray, that is an awesome moto shrine and your wife approves. She is a keeper indeed. Congrats on the man cave and the good wife. Well played sir 🙂

  • Starmag

    “Since the Ex already took half of my stuff once, my thinking is that
    she’s less likely to do it again than if I were to start over with a
    newer, pre-menopausal model. I feel like I’ve been vaccinated. ”

    Haha. Classic. Never can be too sure though.

  • nickatnyt

    Living with the ex? Been there, done that. It was surprisingly easier than the first go around.

  • Backroad Bob

    JB, you hit another nerve, only this time it’s a good one. Nothing like an old garage that smells of gear oil and grease. That’s why all good mc/car museums have one.

  • James Stewart

    A recent trip home to mom’s house found me banging around in Dad’s old garage. He’s been gone since 2008, so everything’s covered in dust and even more jumbled than usual. Layers of stuff now – kind of like an archeological dig site. I did notice the 1979 KX-125 tank stickers still stuck to the oh-so-cool 70’s wood paneling. Pretty sure the KX cost him about a grand back in the day, but my time spent with the old man at the MX track? Priceless. Good job Burns – old garages tell old stories – usually good ones.