Shockoe Moto

“After five months at the think tank I’d saved enough to buy some tools I needed, and quit. I was going to go into business fixing motorcycles. My plan was to start small, working out of my garage. But soon I met Tommy, who had a line on some warehouse space that could be had for cheap rent. We went in on it together; my share of the rent was a hundred dollars per month.

“For the first three years of its existence, my shop was located in this brick warehouse, near the train station in the decaying downtown area of Richmond called Shockoe Bottom. The business grew fitfully during this time, with always-uncertain prospects in the leaking, uninsurable building that sat at ground zero of a planned baseball stadium. One day I surveyed the cans of gasoline, the solvent circulating in the parts cleaner, and above all the makeshift squatter’s wiring, and decided it was time to move. And in fact, the building has since burned down. But the episode I want to relate shortly, involving a Honda Magna, took place in this warehouse, so allow me to describe the scene.

“The warehouse held an underground economy, completely invisible from the street. In addition to my shop, known as Shockoe Moto to those who knew which glazed-over window to knock on, there was a two-man cabinet shop, and two other motorcycle mechanics operating independently. Down the hall was Garnet, the laconic Harley and Brit-bike old-timer with his Whitworth wrenches and long pauses, working in the gloom cast by a single drop light in the cavernous darkness. Sharing my well-lit space was Tommy, a painter of [girls] and diagnoser of steering shimmies. Elsewhere in the building there was an “architectural salvage” (that is, junk) dealer rumored to deal other things as well; a building contractor with an unintelligible South Carolina accent who carried around a spinal tap of morphine for a broken back; another builder, this one a lesbian gut-and-rehab, crack-house turnaround hustler; the warehouse drunk, unpredictably loving or vicious, with his interminable Olds Toronado restoration project; a black duck named BD with a taste for ankle flesh; and The Iraqi and his silk-shirt-wearing brother, who together “managed” the building. There were also various litters of kittens and a rotating series of questionable individuals, usually “in between situations,” living upstairs in the unheatable, uncoolable warehouse, including one very sexy young S and M model and a pizza delivery guy who shot a man in self-defense and then skipped town, leaving behind only a Koran and a pile of [magazines]. I’d gone from the Committee on Social Thought to this.”


Matthew B. Crawford, Shop Class as Soulcraft, pp. 109-111.


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About tylerstembridge

I reside with my wife in midstate Illinois, just up the road from downtown Peoria. I spend most of my time working for the Hungarian Handyman, but I also love studying history (predominately American history from 1770-1870), cycling, and drinking good coffee.

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