...there is an organic method and a synthetic method for distilling vinegar...
It was becoming a long winded story and, while I was listening, I was beginning to wonder where it was headed. Jim is one of those people who knows a bit about everything and what he doesn’t know he can figure out. He was telling me about an argument he got into online with a chemical plant manager about methods for distilling vinegar. The manager would not accept that he had figured out vinegar distillation because he didn’t know the proper terms. It was petty, but indicative of a type of person who will defend their island of knowledge at all cost.
Meanwhile my bike was naked, stripped of the tank, the seat, and the bags, and floating three inches above the floor, suspended by rope from the rafters in a warehouse in Inglewood, Los Angeles. It was already after midnight.
I think he noticed that I was a little confused that we were talking about vinegar while my bike was in such a state. He smiled quixotically and reached in his memory for a passage from Cormac McCarthy’s The Crossing.
The names of the cerros and the sierras and the deserts exist only on maps. We name them that we do not lose our way. Yet it was because the way was lost to us already that we have made those names. The world cannot be lost. We are the ones. And it is because these names and these coordinates are our own naming that they cannot save us. They cannot find for us the way again.
The passage clearly had resonance for Jim. I could tell why. All around us, on the walls, the ceiling, and the floor were things without names; bicycles, boats, and motorcycles that Jim had analyzed, dissected, modified, and reassembled. Each one was a completely unique thing. They did not have an instruction manual or a guidebook, but they had a logic to them. If you could read physics intuitively the way Jim did you could hear them telling you how they worked and what they needed.
Jim was proud of his creations, he lead me around his menagerie of machines as he fondly told each of their creation stories. It seemed he had not searched them out, but somehow they had found their way to him. Typically, they were neglected or abused when they rolled through his door. He would strip them down, remove what he deemed unnecessary, and enhance them for some specific purpose — his modifications rarely failed to be unorthodox — then he would take them out and put them to the test, riding them hundreds of miles into the desert or miles offshore.
It was because the way was lost to us already that we have made those names. The world cannot be lost. We are the ones.
I knew that people like Jim existed — people who can read the world without books — but I was awed by him. Earlier in the day, at the suggestion of a friend, I reached out to him on an online forum. I was unable to fit the centerstand that I had been waiting a week for. He suggested I come by his shop that night and he would help me out. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was simply desperate to leave LA and I needed help.
I could not have asked for a better person for the job. I thought it would be simple and would just take a couple hours. I was wrong. When we finally wrapped up, it was after four in the morning and we had been at work for almost seven hours.
As I rode back across the city to get a few hours sleep at the apartment in East Hollywood, I-10 was buzzing with early morning commuters. The dawning city would soon be aglow with the headlights of millions of people trying to find their way. Soon all of Los Angeles would be awake.