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Mary in her garage in the Lower Beast Side of NYC

JUNE 18, 2019
Shelli Sonstein of the NYC classic rock radio station Q104.3, was announcing the weather in her nasal Queens-accented voice, reminiscent of Fran Drescher as “The Nanny,” but not quite as severe or exaggerated as Drescher’s.

“It’s a monsoon out theah, folks. With these storms and torrential downpours, ya can fuggedabowt yaw umbrellas.”

Yet, I had to go. I had to get to Mary’s garage on Delancey Street in the Lower Beast Side of NYC. “Mary” is my blood-red ’72 Vette Stingray. This was the moment I’d been obsessing about for ten months! It was a slice of normalcy in my life that I felt desperate to claw back and hug close to me, after ten months of abnormal living.

JUNE 4, 2018
I woke up a little after 3:00 AM, feeling that familiar itch, that compulsion to ride Mabel, my ’71 Harley Shovelhead stroker. I’d been afflicted with this compulsion for 50 years, ever since I got my first Harley “Sally The Bitch,” my 1968 Sportster XLCH. Funny, after all these years I still felt uncomfortable not following this urge to ride. It made me crazy, not to climb aboard my Harley.

The urgency of this compulsion had not changed, but I had. I had aches and pains of the sort that one ignores, simply because they are always there, sometimes better, sometimes worse. It’s an acceptance of pain that only one who has lived with it for the duration, understands. It is not really stoicism. It simply is the mind’s uncanny ability to adjust. Or maybe I’m not giving myself enough credit. Perhaps it is because I am stoic, that I can live with and ignore pain.

The pain in my lower back and hip though, seemed particularly pronounced on my walk to the parking lot. I found that I had to stop and rest halfway to the parking lot, to let the pain subside before continuing. I said to myself, “I gotta do a full stretch when I get to Mabel.” Stretching I’d found, helped to alleviate the pain to some degree.

That wasn’t the only pain I had. I also had chronic pain in my left shoulder, ever since I tore something in it in 2016. It was probably the rotator cuff, but I never sought medical attention for it. I guess I’m peculiar that way. I hate going to doctors. I did the same thing when I tore a ligament in my right knee in 1969, when kickstarting Sally The Bitch. In that case, Sally’s kickstarter did not “catch” and it slipped right through with no resistance. Wow, was that painful! Yet, I limped around for weeks, not seeing a doctor for it. Oh well, easy come easy go!

I did my stretch by Mabel in the parking lot. Then I felt ready to go. I started the Mabes up, just the usual business. After warming up, I kicked ‘er into first gear, fed in the clutch and stretched out my legs, feet resting easily on the highway pegs. Mabel faced the back of the lot, so I made the tight u-turn that this little island acted as a divider to. After rounding the island, we abruptly turned sharp right and Mable’s front 21 hit the island, and we went down.

There I was trapped under Mabel’s right side, something protruding from her right side impaling my right calf. Mabel was still running, and I smelled gas as it ran from Mabel’s S & S Super B carb. I was able to free myself, from under her, and picked her up and put her on her kickstand. Then I shut her motor off. I was okay, but shaken. There was a hole in my jeans of my right leg, and there was blood seeping from through the fabric. “What the hell just happened,” I muttered to myself. I had no idea. But I felt a shift in the Universe.

I restarted Mabel up, saw that she was running okay, then went out to gas up. After gassing up at the BP Station at 23rd Street next to the East River, I pulled out of the station, then noticed a peculiar thing. I noticed that in trying to make a tight right turn, that we were running wide of where I wanted us to go. That was strange and unsettling. I seemed to note subconsciously, that the end of riding motorcycles was near for me—even though I could not admit or voice it outright yet.

Yes, I did suffer a wound on my right calf when I dumped Mabel that day. But a scab had formed and I wasn’t too worried, despite the fact that my lower leg had become very swollen for weeks. I thought that was normal. About a month after dropping Mabel, the scab fell off–and I noticed that there was a profuse leakage of pus from the wound. That was not normal! Long story short, I went to the emergency room of Beth Israel Medical Center (where I had by the way, worked in the early ’70s). It was confirmed that I had an infection, and was admitted to stay overnight on a regimen of intravenous antibiotics. I was deemed well enough to go home the next day.

About a month after that, I developed a sharp, piercing pain in my hip, that even I could not ignore. The reason? The pain was so severe, I couldn’t walk. I ended up calling “911” and the paramedics arrived and assessed my condition. I was convinced that I had injured a hip flexor muscle, but boy, was I wrong. The EMT guys took me by ambulance to Beekman Downtown Hospital’s emergency room in Lower Manhattan. Hey man, this emergency room thing was gettin’ tedious!

I had x-rays done at the ER, and an ER doctor said to me, “It’s a good thing you came in Mr. Wong. You have a fractured hip. In fact, it looks like you had it for months. When did you first notice pain in that area?” Ah, the disadvantages of being able to withstand and ignore pain! That was the beginning of my real medical adventure. The wound in my calf seemed insignificant by comparison.

I was admitted to the hospital, and the ball got rolling for a left hip replacement surgery. In the course of this prep work, a cardiologist came to me and said, “Mr. Wong, I can’t approve you for the surgery, because your heartbeat is too slow–this is called bradycardia. It’s a risk we can’t take.” I actually knew about the slow heartbeat for years, but ignored it. The bottom line was, I had to be transferred to New York Hospital where they did pace maker implantation, which was was not done at Beekman Downtown Hospital. So, I was transferred to New York Hospital, where I had the pace maker and left hip replacement done on the same day, on August 6, 2018.

I won’t bore you with the tedium that was months of home rehab and working diligently to get back physically. I will say that recently, I’ve noted marked improvement in my cardiovascular condition and hip strength. I’ve gotten to the point where I have gotten back to where I was–more or less, it is hard to absolutely quantify–where I can walk to Mary’s garage nonstop without having to stop and rest the hip. I can feel that there is even greater room for improvement, which is good. And that leaves us at this point yesterday….

JUNE 18, 2019
It was raining cats, dogs, iguanas and piranha. In other words, it was rain so heavy it contained everything but the kitchen sink. When I walked into the garage on Delancey Street where I kept Mary, with rivulets of water running profusely from my person, Charley from the Ludlow Garage was already there waiting for me. The Ludlow Garage may be the last bastion of honest and competent mechanics left in Manhattan. Think of Jerome the owner and his guys, as the “Andrew Rosa” and “Rosa’s Cycles” of cars. That’s how highly I think of Jerome and his shop. There have been times when Jerome has done work for me, and didn’t even charge me for it.

I met Jerome 20 years ago, when I was hunting around for a wrench who had experience with old Vettes. When I inquired at Worth Auto Parts (now defunct) at 5th Street and the Bowery, they told me about Jerome. The guy said, “Jerome at Ludlow has worked on everything under the sun, but you’ll have to make an appointment. That’s how in demand they are there.” When I finally spoke to Jerome, I was impressed. The guy was a true motorhead himself, having owned hot old Vettes himself.

At this point, Mary was sitting in her garage with a dead battery since last September. I hadn’t seen her since July of last year, when I last drove her. My medical adventure really put a crimp in my motorvatin’ life, man. But here was Charley from the Ludlow Garage, with a fresh new battery in hand. Charley then installed Mary’s new battery, and I started Mary up for the first time, since before my surgeries of last August. I then took Mary out for a drive in the pouring rain. Think of the rain as “Nature’s Car Wash.” Check it out man, I truly started to feel whole again.


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